Biology Letters recently published an article on the use of brushes in dairy farms and how these can affect cow behaviour. We spoke to the authors from the University of British Columbia about their paper and their findings.

View of the Earth's atmosphere from space

Tell us about yourselves and your research

We work in the Animal Welfare Program located in the Faculty of Land and Food Systems at the University of British Columbia in Canada, who work primarily with dairy cattle but also with other farm, laboratory, wildlife and companion animals. Our work aims to improve the lives of animals through research, teaching and outreach.

What is your article about?

The article describes an experiment investigating dairy cattle motivation to access a mechanical brush – a resource that can be provided in dairy farms to facilitate grooming behaviour. We first trained cows to push open a weighted gate to access a brush. By slowly increasing the weight on this gate, we could investigate how hard the cows were willing to work to access this device. We then compared this with how hard they were willing to work for access to fresh feed – something we know cows are highly motivated for. Our results show that dairy cattle were willing to work as hard to access the brush as to access fresh feed, indicating that a brush is a very important resource for dairy cows.

What are the main points readers should take from the article?

Dairy cows are very motivated to access a mechanical brush. Despite this resource being advertised by some as environmental enrichment, our work actually suggests that it is a necessity for the cows.

Why did you submit to Biology Letters?

This experiment contributes to the fundamental understanding of cattle behaviour and motivation. Biology Letters’ diverse readership, open access option, and focus on publishing novel and high quality research provided us with the perfect platform to publish this study.

What was your experience publishing with Royal Society Publishing?

We had a great experience with Royal Society Publishing. We found the reviewer and editor comments to be of high quality, which aided us in improving our paper. Additionally, we were impressed with the efficiency the editor showed, which resulted in a very short turnaround time and a fast publication.

What’s next for you?

The first author starts law school next month at Northwestern University, the second author is nearing the end of her PhD where she focussed on facilitating outdoor access for dairy cattle on farms, the third author is starting his PhD with the UBC Animal Welfare Program next year, the fifth author is working as a professor in Warsaw, and the fourth and last authors are professors at UBC who lead the Animal Welfare Program.  They plan to continue working with their graduate students on a variety of research projects pertaining to animal welfare.

As a group, we aim to conduct further research on dairy cattle motivation for various resources, as well as gaining a better understanding of dairy cattle grooming behaviour with the brush.

Biology Letters publishes short research articles, opinion pieces and reviews. Find out more about how to submit by visiting our information for authors page.


  • Surayya Johar

    Surayya Johar