What are the challenges in goat breeding

Goats willingly perform a task to get food, even if the same food could be easily reached. This is what two scientists at the Swiss research institute Agroscope found out. Dr. Nina Keil, specialist in animal-friendly husbandry, and doctoral student Katrina Rosenberger, see this as a possible challenge for future goat husbandry, which should also do justice to the cognitive abilities of intelligent animals. "Animal-friendly husbandry should also take the cognitive needs of animals into account," says Nina Keil. “Our results are a first step. We now have to repeat the experiment under real conditions on a farm and over a longer period of time to see how the animals' motivation develops. ”The two scientists have published their results in the journal Scientific Reports.

In the experiment, the goats often headed for the opening in a room with two feed openings where they had to open a sliding door to get a reward. There is a film about it. The goats could have achieved the same reward without a door in the other opening. In the experiment, the animals had free access to food so that hunger did not affect their behavior during the experiment. In preparation, the animals had already learned to open sliding doors with their mouths. This movement corresponds to the natural behavior of the animals, which also rummage through bushes to get to leaves.

Dairy goat behavior exceeds expectations
For this study at Agroscope in Tänikon (TG), 30 dairy goats that were bred for high milk yield (Saanen goats and chamois-colored mountain goats as well as crossbreeds of the two breeds) were selected, as well as 27 dwarf goats that were not bred for productivity. To the surprise of the scientists, the dairy goats were even more interested in completing a task before they received the reward. "We expected the pygmy goats to be interested, as they had already been observed in a similar experiment," explained Katrina Rosenberger. She refers to a study at the Institute for Farm Animal Biology in Dummersdorf, the German research partner in the project. "We were surprised on the other hand, from the dairy goats: We had expected that the livestock bred for high milk yield would save their energy and be less motivated to make an effort for a reward, especially if the same reward is available without exertion, ”reports Rosenberger.

Behavioral researchers describe the behavior of goats as contrafreeloading. "This term describes the behavior of animals, who would rather make an effort to find a coveted resource than be presented with it," explained Nina Keil. This phenomenon is known both in domesticated animals - cows, pigs, goats and chickens - and in wild animals that are kept in a zoo, for example. It is not known whether it can also be observed in wild animals in the wild. “We assume,” continued Nina Keil, “that the animals display this behavior because solving a task and the associated control over their environment trigger positive feelings. You will probably get a satisfaction from this that outweighs the additional effort. "

The study is part of a larger joint project between the Institute for Farm Animal Biology (FBN) in Dummerstorf (Germany) and Agroscope in Tänikon (Switzerland). The project examines the learning abilities of different goat breeds and the effects of long-term cognitive environmental enrichment on the stress resistance of goats.

Stay up to date and subscribe to our free
monthly newsletter Agriculture currently

More news too politicsCrop productionlivestock farmingMarket & Management