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A Statistical Analysis of Vocal Communication Between Ewes and Lambs

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Recordings of ewes and lambs bleating to each other, while separated by a canvas barrier, were analysed into categories based on the definition of an answer as being a bleat made within 2 sec of the first bleat. The number of answers were counted when: (a) the ewe answered the lamb; (b) the ewe answered the lamb's reply to its first bleat; (c) the lamb answered the ewe; (d) the lamb answered the ewe's reply to its first bleat. The number of bleats made by the lamb or ewe with no answer was also counted. The time interval between bleats was recorded for each of these categories. The percentage occurrence of each category was similar for all breeds tested. Lambs bleated more often with no answer from an alien ewe than from their dams. Analysis of the ewes answering bleats showed that the Dalesbred ewes had the greater tendency to answer their own lambs rather than aliens, and Soay ewes had the least tendency to answer all lamb bleats. All breeds answered their own lambs more than alien lambs. Analysis of the lambs answering bleats showed the Soay lambs answered less than other breeds and Dalesbred responded most. The Dalesbred also responded more to own ewes than aliens. All lambs answered their dams more quickly than alien ewes in the first minute of the records. Breed differences showed most in the third minute of the records, as the Jacob and Dalesbred lambs slowed in their response time and the Border Leicester lambs showed little temporal change. The ewes showd no difference in response time for own or alien lambs. When lamb bleats were not answered, their frequency increased more in the presence of their dams than in the presence of alien ewes. These results suggest that vocal recognition occurs quickly and that sheep may use frequency of bleating for identification of their own ewes and lambs. The variation between breeds in the speed with which ewes and lambs vocalise may reflect the rate in which they recognise each other or their degree of alertness.

Affiliations: 1: (ARC Institute of Animal Physiology, Babraham, Cambridge, England


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