May 12, 2011

Mother Goats Know The Voice Of Their Young

According to researchers, goats are able to recognize the voices of their young kids, and differentiate them from other animals' offspring.

A mother goat can pick out her own baby from its voice by the time the kid is just five days old.

Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London played recordings of kids' bleats to female goats and studied their responses.

Dr. Elodie Briefer said she was surprised to find that the animals were able to pick out their own kids' voices.

"A mother and kid rely a lot on smell to recognize one another and, in the wild, during the first week of their lives, the animals hide in vegetation and don't call much. It's a strategy they use to avoid predators," she explained to BBC News.

"The mothers call to the kids when they want them to come and feed, so we expected that kids would recognize the mothers voices, but not vice versa."

Alan McElligott, Briefer's colleague, found that this was also the case for fallow deer, which adopt this anti-predator "hiding" strategy, although they do not belong to the same family of species as goats.
The researchers recorded and played back young kids' calls to the female goats at White Post Farm in Nottingham, U.K., and recorded their responses.

"We played the [mother] goats recordings of their own kids and those of other kids that were exactly the same age," she told BBC.

"Even [when the calls came from] kids that were five to six days old, we could see the mothers responding more to the voices of their own babies."

The females would react faster when hearing the voice of their own offspring.

The scientists say that understanding how domestic livestock behaves and communicates is important for good animal welfare.

"This helps us understand just how smart these animals are," Briefer told BBC. "Farmers might be able to adapt their own practices to accommodate this natural behavior."

The study is published in the journal Animal Cognition.


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