Behavior and body surface temperature as welfare indicators in selected sheep regularly brushed by a familiar observer

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Abstract

Research on emotions in farm animals has increasingly contributed to their welfare. We aimed to study behavioral and body temperature responses of dorper and white dorper sheep regularly brushed on their ventral neck, lateral chest, and withers. We performed 3-minute assessments in prebrushing, brushing, and postbrushing phases. Vocalization, ear postures and changes, half-closed eyes, and tail wagging were assessed. We also recorded withers (Tw), anal (Ta), and nasal (Tn) temperatures with an infrared thermometer. Vocalization was infrequent throughout the phases. We identified 3 ear postures frequently performed by the animals: raised up (R), horizontal (H), and backward (B). We noted a longer duration of R rather than H posture before brushing than during brushing. By comparing B and H, we observed that dorper sheep performed the B posture for longer, mainly during than postbrushing. When B and R were compared, sheep expressed the B posture for longer during brushing than both prebrushing and postbrushing phases; dorpers and male sheep also performed the B posture for longer. The results suggest higher performance of B and H postures during the stimulus and that their expression might be associated with a positive, relaxing state of the animals. No significant result was found for ear changes. Sheep showed half-closed eyes mainly in brushing and postbrushing phases, in comparison with the prebrushing phase, indicating that brushing might have elicited a relaxing state in the animals, which might have persisted after the stimulus. Only 4 male sheep wagged their tails, mostly when brushed. We also noted attention-seeking behaviors, including following the observer, leaning against the brush with the head or neck, and stretching the neck when brushed. The results on body temperatures indicated higher variance for Tw in relation to Tn and Ta, which had similar variances. Pairwise comparisons indicated that Tw was higher in postbrushing than in the prebrushing phase; Tn was also higher in the postbrushing phase than in both prebrushing and brushing phases, suggesting an increase in Tw and Tn temperatures after the stimulus. No significant differences were reported for Ta. Brushing might have elicited a positive state in sheep. Ear postures and half-closed eyes may be useful tools for assessing emotions in sheep, as well as withers and nasal temperatures. Furthermore, breed may be a highly significant effect on the expression of ear postures in sheep.

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