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Lamb's Bleats: Important for the Establishment of the Mother-Young Bond?

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image of Behaviour

Border Leicester x Merino (BL x M) lambs can discriminate between their own and alien mothers better than Merino (M) lambs when born to the same breed of dam (M). The behaviour of newborn lambs was therefore observed in different situations to investigate the reason for these better discriminative abilities of the BL x M lambs. In a first experiment lambs were removed from the ewe at birth and tested for 2 h under one of the following conditions: 1) reunited with its dam, 2) in the presence of a stationary model, 3) isolated. Overall the ewe had a stimulating effect on the motor activity of the neonate and a quietening effect on its vocal activity when compared to the other 2 groups, but these effects differed according to the genotypes. When isolated or in the presence of the model, BL x M lambs stood for the first time later than M lambs and spent less time standing and exploring the environment. In both situations BL x M lambs vocalised less than M lambs. When mothered, BL x M lambs stood up and found the teat later than M lambs but their motor and exploratory activity did not differ after 2 h of observation. However, mothered BL x M lambs were far more vocal than mothered M lambs. This suggests that BL x M lambs establish better communication with their dams. A second experiment was carried out on M lambs to investigate the existence of a relationship between the vocal activity of the neonate and the development of a bond with the mother. Results showed that the lambs that were the most vocal at birth also had the best performances in a test of mother discrimination at the age of 12 h. It was concluded that early communication between the ewe and her young probably plays a role in the establishment of a preferential bond.

Affiliations: 1: School of Agriculture (Animal Science), University of Western Australia, Nedlands, Western Australia, 6009


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