Friday, 7 January 2011

Herding Animals Return To Safe Places

A few weeks ago in the midst and as a consequence of our Corkscrew Grass outbreak we came across a dead stag hogget. Given what we now know it was not surprising that the animal suffered in response to the heavy seed load but what was surprising was that the sheep left the other animals and found its way into the shearing shed (close to the house) where it died. We’d been in the shed the day before and could not believe our eyes that it was where it was the next day and was dead.

A week or so ago I recounted what had happened to Chris Henggeler from Kachana Station. He felt that the sheep may well have deliberately returned to the shed as this may have been the last place where it had felt really safe. With herding animals there is a strong instinct for them to stay together given there is ‘safety (from predators) in numbers’. On reflection the shearing shed would have been the last place this particular sheep was in close proximity with others as we were running it subsequently with our small group of rams and two other stags.

We have previously witnessed individual animals separate from the mob when close to death and concluded this is a type of auto-response to protect the rest of the herd from infection from whatever the ailment might be.

We had also previously learned during the Low Stress Stockhandling course we did a few years ago that herding animals remember and resist going back to arrears where they feel stressed, such as into cramped areas where they don’t feel free to escape. An animal returning to where it feels safe is the opposite response.

Chris shared with me a recent observation on Kachana to illustrate his point. To give this event context readers need to be aware that Kachana Station is located in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, comprises over 770 square km, and Chris manages his main herd of cattle in high densities within a relatively short distance from the main camp. Just over 3 years ago a young heifer escaped from the main herd and as far as Chris knew was gone forever. Recently, though, it returned to where it had been with the herd 3 years ago and gave birth to its first calf. Given there are wild dingoes in the area it would have felt safe close to and with the main herd when calving.

A further observation here on Ochre Arch: We have two pet lambs (Thelma and Louise) that Jan has been caring for since the end of September 2010. They were recently weaned and we have had the rest of our weaned lambs running in the same paddock with them adjacent to the house. Despite our best efforts to get them to move on with the other lambs they continue to return to near the house. It is not us (the people) they feel safe near but the area near the house.

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