Goats know what their friends sound like
By Rachael Lallensack
Goats know who their real friends are. A study published today in Royal Society Open Science shows that the animals can recognize what other goats look like and sound like, but only those they are closest with. Up until the late 1960s, the overwhelming assumption was that only humans could mentally keep track of how other individuals look, smell, and sound—what scientists call cross-modal recognition. We now know that many different kinds of animals can do this like horses, lions, crows, dogs, and certain primates. Instead of a lab, these researchers settled into Buttercups Sanctuary for Goats in Boughton Monchelsea, U.K., to find out whether goats had the ability to recognize each other. To do so, they first recorded the calls of individual goats. Then, they set up three pens in the shape of a triangle in the sanctuary’s pasture. Equidistant between the two pens at the base of the triangle was a stereo speaker, camouflaged as to not distract the goat participants. A “watcher” goat stood at the peak of the triangle, and the two remaining corners were filled with the watcher’s “stablemate” (they share a stall at night) and a random herd member. Then, the team would play either the stablemate’s or the random goat’s call over the speaker and time how long it took for the watcher to match the call with the correct goat. They repeated this test again, but with two random goats. The researchers found that the watcher goat would look at the goat that matched the call quickly and for a longer time, but only in the test that included their stablemate. The results indicate that goats are not only capable of cross-modal recognition, but that they might also be able to use inferential reasoning, in other words, process of elimination. Think back to the test: Perhaps when the goat heard a call that it knew was not its pal, it inferred that it must have been the other one.
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A farmer participatory survey was conducted in four communities, Mount Frere, Mount Ayliff, Maluti A and Maluti B, to establish reproductive performance, goat production and marketing constraints, and to examine the selection criteria for replacement goat does and bucks. Goat flock sizes ranged from 5 to 200 goats per household across the communities. Kidding rate varied with the community and also with the feed availability and incidence of diseases. Kidding interval ranged between 7 and 9 months. Early weaning (3 months) was reported in Mt Frere and Mt Ayliff respectively. In Maluti A and B weaning was done at 3 to 4 months post partum. Weaned kids reached puberty at the age of 8 to 12 months. On average, in Maluti A and B mortality rates of up to 35% were reported while farmers in Mt Frere and Mt Ayliff reported average mortality rates of 25 and 30%, respectively. Farmers’ decisions on selection criteria for replacement does and bucks in their goat flocks differed with communities. Odds ratios showed that farmers in Mt Frere and Mt Ayliff were biased towards selecting for reproductive and physical aspects. In contrast farmers in Maluti A and B rated adaptive aspects as the most critical. Average market weights of goats differed significantly with community. Goats in Mat Ayliff and Mt Frere had higher markets weights than those in Maluti A and B and were fetching higher sales rates at the market. Umzimvubu Goat Project was offering lower prices than the local market and hence famers now preferred the local market. Poor reproduction efficiency, low goat numbers, high goat mortalities, poor management practices and unfavourable offers at the market were mentioned as major constraints to goat production and marketing. It is therefore necessary to take into consideration the various constraints and factors peculiar to different groups of farmers in different regions which may influence their decisions making processes in implementing selection and breeding strategies to improve goat production and marketing.
Key words: Reproductive performance, mortality rates, selection criteria, flock sizes, goat marketing.