Temperament Behaviours in Individually Tested Sheep Are Not Related to Behaviours Expressed in the Presence of Conspecifics

Leigh Atkinson, Rebecca E Doyle, Ellen C Jongman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Individual behavioural testing in sheep is common; however, outcomes may be misleading as they are a highly gregarious species that is usually managed in groups. We investigated whether behaviour expressed by 3-4-month-old Merino lambs (n = 220) in social isolation was related to their behaviour towards the same stimuli when three other conspecifics were present, and if measures of temperament (vocalisations and locomotory behaviours) were repeatable across both social situations. Expression of all behaviours were reduced when conspecifics were present, and vocalisations were rarely performed in social groups, suggesting that this behaviour is a response to social isolation. Similarities across the two social situations, in ranked order of how individual lambs expressed each behaviour, indicate that vigilance and attentional orienting towards a human were repeatable (p < 0.001), as was vigilance in a startle test (p < 0.05). However, no clear relationship between behaviours expressed across the two social situations was found. The results of this study suggest that testing sheep individually should be conducted with caution where the outcome is applied to animals managed in groups. Vigilance shows promise as a measure of an underlying trait that is stable across social contexts.

Original languageEnglish
Article number155
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalAnimals
Volume14
Issue number1
Early online date2 Jan 2024
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2024

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