Behaviour response of Namaqua Afrikaner, Dorper and South African Mutton Merino lambs towards humans
The response of Namaqua Afrikaner, Dorper and South African Mutton Merino lambs, of approximately four months of age, towards a human being situated between them and their flock mates was studied in an arena test. The objective of the study was to determine whether the unimproved Namaqua Afrikaner, with an arguably shorter history of selection, would react differently to humans in an arena test compared to commercial breeds. A total number of 305 animals, born in 2010 and 2011 and raised under extensive veld conditions, were assessed in a modified arena test when the lambs born in each year were approximately four months old. From the test results it was possible to calculate the following parameters of the behaviour of the sheep: (i) The mean distance from the human operator, (ii) the time a lamb spent in a specific zone situated either close to or far from the human, and (iii) the total number of boundaries crossed, which gives an indication of the total distance travelled by an individual lamb. Other data recorded were the number of bleats and the number of times an animal urinated or defecated. There were no significant sex and birth type differences for any of the behaviour traits. No conclusive breed differences were found for any of the traits describing the behaviour of the lambs, except for the number of bleats. Namaqua Afrikaner lambs bleated significantly (24.0 ± 1.2) more in the three minute testing period than Dorper (8.2 ± 0.9) and South African Mutton Merino lambs (11.9 ± 2.5). Further research is necessary to see if this slight indication of anxiety could be related to other traits such as lamb survival or product quality.
Keywords: Arena test, distance travelled, times defecated, times urinated, sheep, stockman, temperament