Saturday, February 20, 2010

Goat and Sheep: Play Fighting, Interesting Behavior

If you have an interest in inter-species play/fight behavior, then watch this video I took yesterday. Otherwise, it might be rather boring. You have been warned.

Animal Place is home to 11 goats and 8 sheep. The sheep have learned goats are more aggressive than they and many have horns. Every now and then, a younger sheep will show an interest in interacting with one of the goats.

Lenny, a 2-yr-old Merino wether (neutered) and Annie, a middle-aged Boer doe, began the dance of play. Some may argue they are displaying signs of dominance, but Lenny’s lack of intense aggression leads me to believe they are more play than actual fight. Further, Annie shows incredible restraint when she head-butts Lenny.

Sheep and goats are different in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Goats are browsers while sheep are grazers – both are ruminants, with a four-chambered stomach. The horns on goats and sheep differ. When approached by potential predators, sheep form a tight flock and tend to run away. Goats tend to form a tight herd, turn to face the predator in a straight line, and only back down if forced to (I’ve seen foolish dogs head-butted and tossed by goats). There is one sheep at Animal Place who acts like a goat when faced with a dog, and he once “saved” the sheep flock from a roaming Border Collie by charging down the hill and chasing the dog off. (He came up to me quite pleased with himself). So, of course, there are individual variances and personalities.

When fighting, sheep back up and charge; goats circle around, move a few feet away, rear up at an angle, and then land hard for the head-butt. The fighting “head-butt” behavior is also a form of play and a way to interact socially with conspecifics and, dangerously, sometimes with humans as well.

The Video
Annie exhibits classic goat head-butting behavior. Lenny does not exhibit classic sheep head-butting behavior and tries, in his own small way, to emulate Annie. He does not have the behavioral inclination to rear up or angle himself, but you can see him try a couple of times to hop a little before butting heads.

You can also see how restrained Annie is in her rearing and butting behavior. Instead of ramming full-force, she slows slightly before making contact with Lenny. I think this shows Annie’s ability to modify her behavior to accommodate Lenny. She does not do this with goats.

You’ll see a white sheep, Simon, come in for a closer inspection and back away quite quickly when he realizes there’s a goat involved. I am certain he thinks Lenny is nuts.

Lenny is naturally polled – he was born without horns. As you can plainly see, Annie has horns.The only time Lenny becomes uncomfortable is when Annie's horns encounter his unnatural wool and snag.

After a bit, Lenny becomes clearly uncomfortable. He pulls back and starts to grind his teeth (it looks like he is chewing his cud). But Annie’s not giving up and they smash heads again. About 30 seconds later (not in video), Laura comes over and intervenes. You can see and hear the distinct difference between two horned goats head-butting and what you’ve been seeing between Annie and Lenny. It’s not just the sound, either, it’s the force. Annie has really been restraining herself with Lenny but does not do so w/ Laura.

I love the moment after. Laura standing proud in the middle, a referee. Annie is annoyed off to the side and Lenny isn’t sure what to do. But I think he’s probably relieved.

And just for sake of comparison, I kept in when Annie and Laura continue their “fight”. You can see the difference in force. Laura does not rear up a lot because she was dragged around by a broken front leg before arriving at the sanctuary. It healed but not completely.

I like what this video conveys: Nonhuman animals can adjust their behavior to accommodate others. Individuals can show curiosity and avoidance or show curiosity and interference. Sheep are not all “sheep” – Simon would not do what Lenny did. Goats are not all “goats” – one of the other goats would have hurt Lenny, but Annie adjusted to his behavior.


4 comments:

Pibble said...

That was fascinating! I thought they were very gentle with each other, or maybe that was my anthropomorphic interpretation, as opposed to Laura and Annie's interaction.

And I can swear I've heard the same noise Annie and Laura were making while head-butting between some humans I know.

Thanks for sharing. Very interesting!

Rinalia said...

I don't think it's anthropomorphic. It's visually clear that Annie interacts with Lenny quite differently than with conspecific Laura. Why she does it or what she's thinking about the whole situation is certainly up in the air. :)

Hehe, I hear you about clashing with some humans! :)

Retrieverman said...

My sheep post is going to be longer than I thought, so I'm going to break it up.

The first post should be up this evening.

Rinalia said...

Cool, looking forward to it!