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Lamb Experiences Shape Sheep Behavior

Update Date: Jul 02, 2014 12:08 AM EDT

Childhood experiences can shape the behavior of adult sheep, according to new research.

A new study found that early life experiences as lambs can significantly affect the behavior of sheep and their offspring.

After examining how early-life experiences can influence the behavioral responses of naturally painful events in later life, researchers found that early life challenges can significantly influence pain-related behavior.

Researchers explain that lambs are usually tail-docked without painkillers. Removing the tail is a common preventative measure to cut the risks of flies laying eggs on dirty tails and common bacterial infections.

The latest study revealed that female sheep that had their tails removed or experienced mild simulated infection shortly after birth exhibited more pain-related behavior when giving birth to their own first lambs compared to those who did not suffer early traumatic experiences.

Furthermore, the offspring of mother lambs who had experienced a mild infection in early life were more tolerant of pain during the first few days of their lives.

Researchers said the latest findings suggest that the management of early life health and husbandry conditions can produce significant long-term implications for animal health and welfare.

"Our study suggests that infection and tail-docking during the first few days of life may have long-term effects on an individual's development and behavior, and on that of her own offspring," lead researcher Mike Mendl, Professor of Animal Behavior and Welfare in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, said in a news release.

"Further work is needed to establish the robustness of these findings, to identify potential underlying mechanisms, and to help inform husbandry practices to enhance animal health and welfare," Mendl added.

The findings are published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters.

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