Decision-making Processes in Group Departures of Cattle


A. Ramseyer, Département Ecologie, Physiologie et Ethologie, IPHC, CNRS, 23 rue Becquerel, 67087 Strasbourg, France. E-mail:


To keep social cohesiveness, group-living animals have to reach consensus decisions through recruitment processes. This implies that decision-making depends on the behaviours and social relationships of several group members at different stages of movements. We tested these assumptions in a group of fifteen 18-mo-old Charolais heifers (Bos taurus) at pasture, in which two observers continuously videotaped social interactions and group departures after resting periods. These departures were preceded by a phase of preparation characterized by an increase in activity. The number of heifers participating to a movement increased with the number of group members oriented in the direction of the movement before departure. The first moving animal also recruited a higher number of mates when it had a greater number of close neighbours, the first individuals to follow being mainly its preferential partners. Coercive interactions such as pressing behaviours were observed within the 5 min preceding or following departure. After departure, the numbers of walks and restarts of the first two movers were still operative in recruiting others. The frequency of pauses of the first mover was significantly higher when it was not followed, meaning that it adjusted its behaviour to that of other group members. Decision-making was distributed among group members, with any individual being liable to move first. The behaviour of cows and their spatial distribution before departure, at departure and after departure significantly affected the number of participants in the movement, demonstrating that decision-making was time-distributed in the studied cattle group.