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Social companionship versus food : the effect of the presence of familiar and unfamiliar conspecifics on the distance steers travel

journal contribution
posted on 06.12.2017, 00:00 by Kym Patison, David SwainDavid Swain, G Bishop-Hurley, P Pattison, G Robins
The social motivation of a grazing individual to remain in close proximity to its peer is dependent on many factors, particularly the level of familiarity with its peers and the desire to forage further away. This study examined the trade-off individual cattle have to make between a food reward and maintaining close proximity to a peer with which they are either familiar or unfamiliar. Two unfamiliar groups of 12 Brahman steers were individually tested in a 30 m × 140 m grassed arena with an adjoining holding yard containing the peer. During the without-food test, no food was provided to motivate individuals to move away from their peer. In the with-food tests, 13 food bowls containing 250 g of pelleted grain were placed at 10 m increments directly in front of the penned animal. Every individual from each group was paired with both a familiar and unfamiliar peer during the without-food and with-food test phases and their distances and behaviour were recorded for 30 min. The mean distance travelled from the penned steer was higher in the with-food test than the without-food test for steers paired with both familiar and unfamiliar peers, indicating that the food source provided the motivation to move away from the penned steer. Steers paired with familiar peers had more bowl visits (familiar = 12.0 ± 1.24 bowl visits, unfamiliar 7.5 ± 1.22 bowl visits, P = 0.014) and visited bowls at a greater rate (familiar: 22.6 ± 3.27% time bowl visiting, unfamiliar 12.6 ± 3.13% time bowl visiting, P = 0.033) compared to steers paired with unfamiliar peers. It was concluded that familiarity does affect an individual's decision to move away from a peer to forage; steers are more willing to move away from a familiar peer to seek a food reward than with an unfamiliar peer.




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Science Direct



Peer Reviewed


Open Access


External Author Affiliations

CSIRO Livestock Industries; University of Melbourne;

Era Eligible



Applied animal behaviour science.

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