A sheep's early life experiences can shape behavior in later life

Jul 01, 2014
Suffolks are a medium wool, black-faced breed of meat sheep that make up 60% of the sheep population in the U.S. Credit: Jacquie Wingate/Wikipedia/CC BY-SA 1.0

New research has found that a sheep's experiences soon after birth can shape its later behaviour and also that of its offspring.

The study led by academics from the University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences and published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters investigated whether early-life experiences can alter behavioural responses to a naturally painful event in adulthood – giving birth – and also affect behaviour of the next generation.

The period following birth can be a challenging time for young lambs. They are usually tail-docked without analgesia as a preventative measure to reduce the chances of flies laying eggs on dirty tails, and they may also experience bacterial infections such as 'joint ill' or 'navel ill'. However, the long-term consequences of these early life challenges are not well understood.

The research team found that female sheep that had their tails docked or experienced a mild simulated infection shortly after they were born, showed more pain-related behaviour when giving birth to their own first lambs than did females who had not had these early-life experiences.

Furthermore, the lambs of those mothers who had experienced a mild infection in early life were less sensitive to pain during the first few days of their lives than were other lambs.

The study's findings highlight the impact that events during the period after birth can have on an animal in later life and the researchers suggest that variations in the management of health and husbandry conditions can have important long-term implications for and welfare.

Mike Mendl, Professor of Animal Behaviour and Welfare in the School of Veterinary Sciences, said: "Our study suggests that infection and tail-docking during the first few days of life may have long-term effects on an individual's development and behaviour, and on that of her own .

"Further work is needed to establish the robustness of these findings, to identify potential underlying mechanisms, and to help inform husbandry practices to enhance animal health and welfare."

Explore further: Cats put sight over smell in finding food

More information: Long-term and trans-generational effects of neonatal experience on sheep behaviour, Corinna Clark, Joanna Murrell, Mia Fernyhough, Treasa O'Rourke and Michael Mendl, Biology Letters, 2 July 2014. rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.or… .1098/rsbl.2014.0273

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

The ewe can mitigate adverse experiences in her lambs

May 12, 2011

Lambs are likely to encounter a number of adverse events, starting from the fetal stage. In rodents and humans, it was shown that the mother can mitigate the effects of adverse experiences in her young.

Sheep wool growth boosted by reducing cortisol

Oct 22, 2013

University of Adelaide researchers have shown that sheep wool growth can be significantly boosted by manipulating the stress hormone, cortisol, in their pregnant mothers.

Ticks kill sheep

Nov 13, 2013

In some lamb herds, a mortality rate of 30 percent has been recorded, albeit, no predators have been involved in these losses. The situation is so serious that the sheep industry could be under threat. It ...

Do hens have friends? It seems not

Jan 18, 2013

(Phys.org)—A Royal Veterinary College study has found that hens reared in commercial conditions do not form friendships and are not particular about who they spend time with.

Recommended for you

A molecular compass for bird navigation

1 hour ago

Each year, the Arctic Tern travels over 40,000 miles, migrating nearly from pole to pole and back again. Other birds make similar (though shorter) journeys in search of warmer climes. How do these birds manage ...

100,000 bird samples online

3 hours ago

The Natural History Museum (NHM) in Oslo has a bird collection of international size. It is now available online.

New genetic technologies offer hope for white rhino

5 hours ago

With support from the Seaver Institute, geneticists at San Diego Zoo Institute for Conservation Research are taking the initial steps in an effort to use cryopreserved cells to bring back the northern white rhino from the ...

Cats put sight over smell in finding food

20 hours ago

Cats may prefer to use their eyes rather than follow their nose when it comes to finding the location of food, according to new research by leading animal behaviourists.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.