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Behavioural assessment of the habituation of feral rangeland goats to an intensive farming system

Miller, David W., Fleming, Patricia A., Barnes, Anne L., Wickham, Sarah L., Collins, Teresa, Stockman, Catherine A.
Applied animal behaviour science 2018 v.199 pp. 1-8
agonistic behavior, animal behavior, behavior change, correlation, feedlots, feral animals, flight, goats, humans, intensive farming, rangelands
There is increasing interest in methods for the habituation of feral rangeland goats to intensive farming conditions. We tested whether there were production performance and behavioural differences between groups of rangeland goats in an intensive farming system that were either exposed to a high degree of human interaction (HI, n=60) or low degree of human interaction (LI, n=60) over 3 weeks. In the HI group, a stockperson entered the pens twice daily and calmly walked amongst the goats for 20 mins. In the LI group, a stockperson only briefly entered the pens to check water/feed (daily/weekly). At the end of each week the goats were weighed and drafted into 12 subgroups of 10 animals (i.e. 6 sub-groups per treatment). Each sub-group was then tested for agonistic behaviour, avoidance of humans, and flight response. During the flight response test video footage was collected and later used for analysis using Qualitative Behavioural Assessment (QBA). For QBA analysis, the videos of each group, taken each week, were shown in random order to 16 observers who used their own descriptive terms to score the groups’ behavioural expression. There was a significant interaction between treatment and time on body mass (F3,174=5.0; P<0.01), agonistic behaviour (F3,12=4.3; P<0.05) and flight speed (F3,12=3.9; P<0.05), with the HI group having significantly higher average body mass (P<0.05), fewer agonistic events (P<0.05), and a slower flight speed (P<0.05) than the LI group after the three weeks. Two main QBA dimensions of behavioural expression were identified by Generalised Procrustes Analysis. QBA dimension 1 scores differed between treatments (P<0.05); HI goats scored higher on QBA dimension 1 (more ‘calm/content’) compared to LI goats (more ‘agitated/scared’). QBA dimension 1 scores were significantly negatively correlated with the number of agonistic contacts (Rs=−0.62, P<0.01), and flight speed (Rs=−0.79, P<0.001), and significantly positively correlated with body mass (Rs=0.68, P<0.001) of the goats over the 3 weeks of the experiment. QBA dimension 2 scores were not significantly different between treatments or over time.Findings from this study support the hypothesis that production performance and behavioural measures can distinguish behavioural changes in rangeland goats that were likely a result of habituation to human interaction in an intensive feedlot.