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J Anim Sci. 2000 Apr;78(4):879-84.

Hand-feeding and gentling influence early-weaned lambs' attachment responses to their stockperson.

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  • 1URH-ACS, I.N.R.A. Theix, St Genès Champanelle, France.


Artificially reared herbivores are highly dependent on the stockperson at an early age in order to learn to drink from an artificial milk provider. This period of training may be a determinant for the animals' subsequent responses toward humans. However, long-term responses may also depend on the human contact (e.g., visual, physical interactions, gentling, and handling) provided to the young lambs after this training period. We examined whether different levels of subsequent contact (no visual and physical contact, stroking, and feeding reward) affect long-term attachment responses of lambs to the caretaker that provided the subsequent contact, after a common initial training period for artificial feeding provided by another person. Ewe lambs (n = 45) were artificially reared from multinippled buckets in groups of three. All the lambs were trained by a stockperson (S1) to suck from the bucket (4.4 +/- .3 sessions of 3 min per animal for the first 2 d of life). Subsequently, 15 lambs received no further human contact (T0). Fifteen other lambs received only stroking from a second stockperson (S2) for 6 min three times a day during the first 4 wk (T1). The remaining 15 lambs (T2) were stroked and bottle-fed by S2 during the same posttraining period as for T1. Tests were performed at 4, 6 (just before weaning), 9, and 13 wk of age in an unfamiliar arena marked in a grid pattern. The test procedure included three successive parts: 1) isolation for 1 min; 2) S2 presence for 2 min; and 3) isolation for 1 min. The T0 lambs spent a similar amount of time in the grid square close to S2 regardless of whether he was present. The T1 and T2 lambs spent more time close to S2 than T0 (P < .01), and T2 spent more time close than T1 (P < .05). In the presence of S2, T2 vocalized less (P < .01) than T0, and T1 did not differ from either T2 or T0. The T2 lambs also crossed fewer squares than T0. When S2 left the arena, T2 vocalized more (P < .01) than T0 and more (P < .05) than T1, and T1 had a tendency to vocalize more (P = .08) than T0. Differences persisted with increasing age. Human contact, especially stroking and feeding, during the 4 wk following initial training strongly and durably influenced the lambs' response not only to the appearance but also to the disappearance of a familiar stockperson. This last result supports the idea that lambs could form a social bond with their stockperson.

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