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AppliedSheepBehavior-WWG-2-04 - Applied Sheep Behavior...

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1 Applied Sheep Behavior Prepared by: Warren Gill, Professor Animal Science Department The University of Tennessee Introduction, The Basics and Sheep Senses Sheep have evolved a unique and fascinating array of behavioral characteristics which have contributed to their survival and proliferation in a unique environmental niche. The successful sheep producer learns to understand sheep behavior, and applies this knowledge to practically all facets of flock management. The scientific study of animal behavior is called ethology. This publication will cover many aspects of sheep ethology from mating behavior to behavior at lambing time and feeding behavior. This will not be an exhaustive review of sheep ethology because such a project would require at least a couple of large books. Instead, we will focus on particular sheep behavioral characteristics that have management implications for sheep producers in the farm and youth club flocks. The Basics of Sheep Behavior In recent years, ethologists have generated a considerable body of literature related to sheep behavior. The following review of research shows that the work which has been done provides evidence for existing sheep management recommendations. There is also, however, behavioral information that may challenge sheep producers to examine their management practices in a different light. Before discussing the various components of applied sheep behavioral research, some basics should be covered. This includes a few definitions and a brief overview of sheep senses because these are the tools which sheep use to interact with their environment. The senses are also the essence of what makes sheep behaviorally distinct in the animal kingdom. Behavior can be defined as the animal's response to its environment. Domestic sheep exist in a relatively controlled environment and their response to that environment is a fairly predictable composite of innate (inherited) and acquired (learned) components. Behavior is an important part of what makes a sheep a sheep, so an important question to answer is "What is a sheep?" One of the world's foremost sheep ethologists, Dr. R. Kilgour, defines a sheep as a "defenseless, wary, tight-flocking, visual, wool-covered ruminant (cud- chewing animal) evolved from a desert or a mountain grassland habitat with low water needs and displaying a 'follower-type' dam precocial offspring relationship with strong imitation between young and old in establishing range systems; showing seasonal breeding and a separate male sub-group structure at certain times of the year." Others have pointed out that the sheep is a strongly social animal requiring the presence of at least 4 or 5 sheep which, when grazing, maintain a visual link with each other.
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2 Much of what makes a sheep behaviorally unique is related to being a ruminating herbivore (plant-eating animal). For example, contrast sheep feeding behavior with carnivorous (meat- eating) feeding patterns. Carnivores spend a much smaller proportion of their time consuming
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AppliedSheepBehavior-WWG-2-04 - Applied Sheep Behavior...

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