Understanding the emotions of dairy cows is primarily important in enhancing the level of welfare and provide a better life on farm. This study explored whether eye white and ear posture can reliably contribute to interpret valence and arousal of emotions in dairy cows. The research was conducted in five Italian dairy farms. Four hundred and thirty-six photographs of cows' heads were scored (four-level), according to the eye white and ear posture during feeding, resting, pasture, and an avoidance distance test at the feeding rack (ADF test). Eye white and ear posture were significantly correlated and influenced by the context (P = 0.001). Pasture was the most relaxing context for cows (67.8% of half-closed eyes; 77.3% ears hung down or backwards). The excitement during ADF test was high, with 44.8% of eye white being clearly visible and ears directed forwards to the approaching assessor (95.5%). Housing and management mostly influenced emotions during feeding and resting (P = 0.002 and P = 0.001, respectively): where competition for feeding places and cubicles was low, the cows showed the highest percentages of half-closed eyes and ears backwards or hung down. This research supports the use of eye white and ear posture as reliable indicators of emotions in dairy cows.
Keywords: arousal; dairy cows; ear posture; emotions; eye white; positive indicators; valence.