Behavioural reactivity of two lines of South African Merino sheep divergently selected for reproductive potential
Cloete, Jasper J.E.
Kruger, Anna C.M.
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The behavioural reactivity of two divergently selected lines of South African Merino sheep for an increased (HL: N = 1187) and reduced (LL: N = 285) number of lambs weaned per ewe mated was investigated using a docility test and a ‘scale’ test. The objective of this study was to determine whether these two lines, which differed significantly in terms of reproduction performance, would also react differently when exposed to novel and challenging situations. In the first test, an individual animal was moved to the test pen by an experienced handler then an unfamiliar or familiar human entered the test pen and tried to encourage the animal to move into a marked area for 3 min. The test was terminated if the animal could not be moved within 3 min, came out of the marked area or if the animal could be contained in the marked area for 30 s (successful test). The latency of the animal to enter and time contained in the square area was recorded as well as whether the animal was bleating or urinating/defecating during the test. No difference was found between production lines and handler in terms of the success of the test and latency to enter (P > 0.05). LL sheep were however contained for longer and bleated more than HL sheep (P < 0.05). Sex differences were also observed, with ewes being more difficult to successfully contain and bleating more than rams, especially when exposed to an unfamiliar human (P < 0.05).