Nordmann, E., Barth, K., Futschik, A. et al. 2015. Head partitions at the feed barrier affect behaviour of goats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 167, 9-19.
Space allowance at the feeding places often forces goats to feed in close proximity, that is, less than their individual distances. In consequence, agonistic behaviour may increase as well as stress and injuries, while access to feed may decrease, especially in low-ranking goats. Partitions between single feeding places may reduce individual distances and may enhance the acceptance of goats feeding close by. The aim of this study was to investigate the influence of non-transparent head partitions at the feed barrier on agonistic behaviour, activity budget, feeding place occupancy, adrenocortical activity, nutritional status (body weight and body condition), and injuries in loose-housed dairy goats. The study involved 72 pregnant dairy goats of the German Improved Fawn breed. Two groups of 36 animals each were tested in a cross-over design. At the beginning, one group was provided with head partitions at a wooden palisade feed barrier, whereas the other group stayed without head partitions. After 11 experimental days, the head partitions were switched to the other group. Social interactions were recorded for 13 h and 20 min per treatment (2 h and 40 min on 5 days each group). Activity budget and feeding place occupancy were observed via scan sampling for 48 h per treatment. Body weight, body condition score, and occurrence of injuries were assessed, and faeces were sampled for analysis of cortisol metabolites. Data were analysed by Wilcoxon-tests for dependent data, except for feeding place occupancy, where t-tests were used. Goats displayed less agonistic behaviour in the feeding area with head partitions at the feed barrier (p = 0.003). In addition, with head partitions a lower number of displacements from feeding place by an actor standing inside the feed barrier was found (p = 0.002). The impact was most pronounced in low-ranking animals (p = 0.009), but effects were also found in middle-ranking goats (p = 0.030). Low-ranking goats were observed less often feeding (p = 0.009) and more often lying (p = 0.026) during the first hour after feed supply with head partitions. With head partitions more goats were feeding directly next to each other, i.e. without an empty feeding place in between (p = 0.017). Regarding the nutritional status of the goats, the lumbar body condition scores were higher in high-ranking animals with head partitions (p = 0.007). Presence of head partitions had no effect on sternal body condition scores, body weight, concentrations of faecal cortisol metabolites, and occurrence of injuries. In summary, non-transparent head partitions seemed to reduce the accepted distance between goats and therefore showed beneficial effects in terms of lower levels of social disturbances during feeding. Thus, head partitions can be recommended for feed barriers in goat loose-housing systems.