2013-05-29   facebook twitter rss
Better Goat Welfare and No Kidding

SRUC researchers are investigating how the experiences of pregnant goats can affect their offspring later in life.

The study is part of a European project aimed at informing livestock farmers around the world how good welfare can have positive benefits for their animals and their businesses.

Dr Emma Baxter (front) and the SRUC research team

Dr Emma Baxter (front) and the SRUC Goat research team

A team led by SRUC animal welfare researcher Dr Emma Baxter is studying 80 kids in a dairy goat herd near Edinburgh. The aim is to find out whether the kids born to nannies handled in different ways during the sensitive middle stage of their pregnancies - when the kids’ brains were developing – learn and react to stress in different ways.

All the experiences of the pregnant goats reflected what can commonly happen in real farm settings around the world. ‘Positive’ handling involved the researchers interacting with the goats at routine rather than random times, avoiding eye contact with them, speaking in quiet voices and making slow, controlled movements. ‘Negative’ handling included interaction at random times, looking the goats in the eyes, speaking in louder voices and swifter, unpredictable movements.

Dr Baxter explained: ”We expect to find that the kids born to ‘positively’ handled nannies develop more quickly and are less fearful than those born to ‘negatively’ handled mothers. If that is the case, our findings will be used to help inform goat farmers about the best ways to care for their herds if they want the healthiest and most productive animals.”

“We already know from previous research at SRUC and elsewhere that the way pigs and sheep are handled can influence both their welfare and the welfare and development of their offspring. The dairy goat has generally been over-looked in this field of research but since farmed goats experience daily interactions with humans we want to understand how the quality of these interactions affects the animals.”

The goats experienced such handling for 10 minutes twice a day for 35 days during the middle part of pregnancy. For the remainder of pregnancy the goats were left alone apart from normal husbandry procedures.

There are 90,000 goats milked in the UK, around 30,000 of which are kept by professional goat milk producers. The liquid goat milk market in the UK is worth £17.9m per annum.

The project is part of the SRUC-coordinated AWIN project which involves 10 partner institutions across nine European countries developing welfare assessment protocols for sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and turkeys.

The findings of the SRUC goat research will be available next year.


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