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A note on the consistency and specificity of lambs' responses to a stockperson and to their photograph in an arena test

Abstract : Understanding how farm animals perceive their stockperson is a major challenge, especially for artificially reared animals which are known to show strong attraction to humans. Replacing the stockperson by its photograph in an arena test could be a useful method for standardising human stimuli. Such an approach requires individual consistency in young lambs' responses to their stockperson, which has not yet been demonstrated. Our objective was to test this consistency and to determine whether the responses of lambs to a photograph of a stockperson in an arena test are linked in a specific way to their responses to the real stockperson in that same test. Thirty-six female lambs were bucket-fed by two men. The individual responses of the lambs to the person feeding them were assessed when the lambs were 4, 5 and 10 weeks of age, in a test pen where the lambs were first alone for 2 min, then left with their stockperson for 2 min, and then left alone again for a further 2 min. At I I weeks of age, a similar test was run with photographs (object and stockperson). Responses to the real stockperson were positively correlated between tests (r(s) > 0.44, P < 0.01). The lambs spent more time near the photograph of their stockperson than a photograph of an object (40 +/- 15s versus 29 +/- 4s, P = 0.02). The time spent near the two photographs was statistically linked (P < 0.02) to the time spent near the real stockperson in the previous test. We observed an increase of the frequency of vocalisations and locomotion when the stockperson left the pen (P < 0.001), but not when the photographs were removed. In conclusion, individual lambs' give consistent responses to the presence or disappearance of a stockperson in an arena test. This suggests an early individual behavioural trait in lambs, and therefore the possibility of early selection for this trait. Our results do not support the use of photographs of humans in arena tests, due to an absence of specific link
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Céline Tallet, Isabelle Veissier, Xavier Boivin. A note on the consistency and specificity of lambs' responses to a stockperson and to their photograph in an arena test. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, Elsevier, 2006, 98 (3-4), pp.308-314. ⟨hal-02653618⟩

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