Have you wondered how animals communicate with each other? Whether in the wild or domesticated, animals have their fascinating “secret language” involving certain sounds and behaviour they display in order to communicate. Normally, animals have their bodies built in such a way to survive many stresses, but they have to do the right thing or show the right behaviour in order to fit in with the environment, to interact with animals of the same species and with people. In fact, animals tend to exhibit different behavioral signs for different reasons. So, why is it important to learn the behaviour of our domestic animals?
There are several reasons why animal owners have to study the animal’s behaviour (Ethology). The main reason is that if we as animal owners learn how to distinguish what certain behaviour means, we can treat animals’ right, prevent serious injuries or diseases. A happy animal will be relaxed, will be playful and social. On the other hand, a stressed animal might be depressed and isolate itself. Some might show the opposite signs and will be too agitated and aggressive. This tells us that we have to be careful when we want to handle animals while they are in this “unhappy” mood or are stressed or sick.
A sudden change in behaviour could be a good indicator that the animals are stressed or sick. A good example is a dog with rabies. Your own dog might even bite you when you approach it the way you have been doing all along. Have you also heard of kudus that suddenly come into people’s yards or houses? This might not be normal behaviour for wild animals and might indicate that they have rabies, so we have to be watchful for these certain changes in behaviour.
Also, sometimes when animals are bored or overcrowded they will “misbehave” which includes cannibalism such when chickens pluck each other’s feathers off, pigs tend to bite each other’s tails, and calves might suckle each other’s navels etc. This kind of behavior should be investigated to determine and fix the problem.
Since we said that animal behaviour is associated with their survival, a good example of animals behaviour correlating with their survival is when, for instance, a goat spots a jackal, it will run fast to avoid being captured. The goats will warn each other through certain behaviour and sounds to caution that a predator is skulking around. On the other hand, the jackal has to be also vigilant and display some hunting skills or behaviour and strike at the right time for it to be successful in the hunting. Thus, if your livestock is running in full swing, it could be an indicator that it is being hunted.
The most common normal behaviour is the one where animals get to look for a mate or a partner. The cows will start mounting each other and bulls start sniffing them. It is important not to disturb these behaviors. During breeding, bulls fight each other for dominance and the superior bull will mate with the majority of your cows while the weaker ones will scrabble for the leftovers. During this time, feeding is not a priority and therefore, they lose weight. This is why it was recommended to shorten breeding period for bulls to be with cows 3-4 months of the year and with only about 25 cows, so that the rest of the year they are resting and building up energy.
Then there is the maternal instinct or behaviour where the female animal will do anything to protect its new born. Make no mistake when you try to touch an animal that has given birth it might bite you or chase after you.
Animals also tend to have a social behaviour. In cattle social behaviour is common, where animals tend to rest at the same time, graze around the same time and look for water the same time. But have you noticed that in your cattle herd it is mostly the same cow that dominates and lead the rest when they go to the field or coming from grazing? Usually, this cow is also mostly followed by the same 3 or 4 cows in a pact, before the rest follows. Thus, if you notice any changes in this pattern, it might be worth investigating what caused the change.
Another good example of animals behaviour we need to take cognizant of is the when you bring in new animals such as goats in your herd, the way the new animals are being attacked from one corner to the next by the old ones until they eventually get accepted. Thus, we have to be careful to gradually introduce new animals to the herd to avoid serious injuries.
Other important reasons why we need to learn the behaviour of animals include: to manage and move stock without causing undue stress and to design facilities which consider the needs of the animals. These facilities include housing, things like holding pens, loading and unloading ramps, and transport vehicles. You don’t want to squeeze various animals together during transport; they might be injured. The successful planning for special operations, such as slaughtering, dipping, dehorning and castration might be influenced by the way animals behave. Even capturing and handling of animals might be an individual animal behaviour thing. For example, one particular cow might absolutely refuse to get into the manga, maybe because she associates the manga with previous pain or stress, so you might need all the tricks in the book just for controlling this individual animal.
Finally, we can see that the one thing that determines whether an animal is “happy”, comfortable or is “unhappy” is its behaviour. Studying animal behaviour could improve the management and production of the animals. If these factors are taken into account, not only will animals be more productive but their welfare will be assured. We get to see varying behaviour in different animal species of which some are just normal but of which some can also indicate “abnormality” or a sense of “unhappiness”. Thus, it is important for an animal owner to study and monitor the behaviour of your animals.
Dr. Baby Kaurivi Katunahange, “The Village Vet”
MVet, BVSc, BSc, Lecturing Veterinarian, Namibia