Chaumont, S., Freitas-de-Melo, A., Pinto-Santini, L., Menant, O. et al. 2021. Rams recognize and prefer the human who regularly brushed them. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 236, 105250.
Brushing produces a relaxing effect and improves the welfare of ewes and lambs and the human-animal relationship. Lambs gently handled during rearing are less fearful to humans in their adulthood, but there are few studies on the development of a positive human-animal relationship in adult animals. The objectives were to compare: 1) the preference of rams toward a familiar person that regularly brushed them and one that had not; 2) the behavioral response of rams to the brushing performed by these two persons. As a control test, we compared the preference of rams toward the caregiver who fed and handled them positively every day to that of another familiar person that had never fed them. Twenty Corriedale rams were brushed for 15 consecutive days by the same previously unknown person. Two independent two-choice tests were conducted one day after the brushing period. In the first test, the preference towards a female brusher (FB) or a familiar female handler (FFH) was compared. In the second test, the preference between a male caregiver (MC), and a familiar man handler (FMH) was compared. Then, the reaction of rams during a brushing session depending of the brusher (FB or FFH) was compared. During the two-choice test, rams entered sooner in the contact zone of FB (P = 0.03), tended to make physical contact sooner with FB (P = 0.1), for longer duration (P = 0.09) and more frequently (P = 0.09) than FFH. They also sniffed FB more times than FFH (P = 0.04). However, rams tended to spend more time in the proximal zone near FFH than that of FB (P = 0.07). Rams sniffed sooner MC than FMH (83 ± 17 s vs 112 ± 17 s; P = 0.05), and tended to look at MC sooner than FMH (P = 0.07). During the brushing session, rams were motionless for longer (FB: 19.4 ± 5.2 s; FFH: 8.5 ± 3.5 s; P = 0.02) and tended to change neck posture less often (FB: 2.8 ± 0.5; FFH: 4.6 ± 1.1; P = 0.07) when brushed by FB than by FFH. Overall, rams preferred the brusher over the familiar handler and they were more relaxed when brushed by the usual brusher than by the familiar handler. Rams displayed a clear preference toward the person that produced a positive stimulus for them. Overall, these results demonstrate that brushing can be an easy strategy to facilitate rams handling, improving also their welfare.