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Tactile Communication Between Ewe and Lamb and the Onset of Suckling

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A series of experiments shows (1) that the effects of tactile stimulation produced by covering the face and eyes of an unsuckled Clun Forest or Soay lamb elicits a vigorous response which includes elements such as tilting up of the muzzle, lengthening of the neck, munching, mouth opening, curling back of the upper lip in the sucking position, tongue protrusion and apparent reaching and grasping movements of the lower jaw, upper and lower lips and the tongue (2) that these movements are directional in that the neck, head, lower jaw, lips and tongue are usually turned towards the stimulus (3) that before the lamb has attained a standing posture this response appears only weakly and may be replaced by a downward head movement; also it is weakened or disappears after the lamb has sucked (4) a similar response can be elicited by a visual stimulus only more slowly and in a less vigorous form. In Soay, but not in Clun Forest, lambs the response to touch was maintained for longer when the eyes were covered, than when the lambs were able to see (5) touch on the belly of the dam, simulating that produced by a lamb pushing its muzzle up against her, causes her to arch her back upwards, while touch nearer to or on the udder, or in the inguinal area, but not on the back of the udder, is associated with lowering of the tail and an outward movement of the hind leg which exposes the teat. The findings are considered in their relation to the natural situation immediately after birth of the lamb when the interchange of different types of tactile and other sensory stimulation gradually brings both partners into a situation in which the lamb can grasp the teat and suck.

Affiliations: 1: AFRC Institute of Animal Physiology, Babraham, Cambridge, CB2 4AT, England


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