Toinon, C., Waiblinger, S., Rault, J.-L. 2021. Maternal deprivation affects goat kids’ stress coping behaviour. Physiology & Behavior 239, 113494.
Maternal deprivation early in life has been shown to disrupt neonates’ development. Nevertheless, separating the young animals from their dams soon after birth remains a common practice in dairy farm husbandry. This study investigated the effects of different rearing conditions on goat kids’ stress coping abilities. Twenty female kids were raised together with their dams (‘dam-reared’) in a herd composed of other lactating goats and kids, while twenty female kids were separated from their dams three days after birth and reared together with same-age peers (‘artificially-reared’) and visually separated from the lactating herd. All kids shared the same father and two thirds of the kids were twins allocated to each treatment. At one month of age, kids were individually submitted to a series of tests: a novel arena test, a novel goat test, and a novel object test. These tests happened consecutively in this order, and lasted 180 s each. The kids’ behaviour was video-recorded and analysed post-hoc by an observer blind to treatments. Five weeks after weaning, the kids were also subjected to human-animal relationship tests. During the three behavioural tests, artificially-reared kids vocalized more (P < 0.001), reared more (P < 0.001), ran more (P = 0.002) and jumped more (P < 0.001) than dam-reared kids, but self-groomed less (P = 0.01) and urinated less (P = 0.05) than dam-reared kids. During the novel goat test and the novel object test, artificially-reared kids gazed less at the novel goat and the novel object (P = 0.02) and initiated contact more quickly (P = 0.05) with the novel goat and the novel object than dam-reared kids. The treatments however did not differ significantly in salivary cortisol response to the tests (P = 0.96). Artificially-reared kids showed significantly less avoidance of humans than dam-reared kids during the human-animal relationship tests after weaning (P < 0.001). The higher intensity of their behavioural reaction showed that artificially-reared kids react to stressful situations more actively than dam-reared kids. The difference between the three tests were only minor, suggesting a general change in the kids’ response to stressful situations rather than a specific change in their social response tested with an unfamiliar adult. Hence, artificial rearing affects goat kids’ behavioural response to challenges, probably maternal deprivation being the main factor.