Search behavior in goat (Capra hircus) kids from mothers kept at different animal densities throughout pregnancy
Journal article, Peer reviewed
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Original versionFrontiers in veterinary science, 2019, 6 10.3389/fvets.2019.00021
Individual differences in cognitive performance are often reported but factors related to variation within species are rarely addressed. Goats (Capra hircus) have been subjects of many cognitive studies recently but without focus on individual variation. Among others, factors such as prenatal stress and sex of the individual have been proposed as possible explanations for individual variation in cognitive skills. We aimed to study whether prenatal environment, prenatal stress, litter size, sex, and birth weight influences search behavior skills of goat kids. Pregnant Norwegian dairy goats were exposed to different spatial allowance (namely 1.0, 2.0, or 3.0 m2 per animal) within the commercially applied range during pregnancy and their serum cortisol levels were measured six times within this period. Twenty-six of the kids born entered a three-stage searching task with increasing difficulty when they were 6 weeks old. The tasks included finding a bucket of milk: while moving (stage 1), after moving and disappearing behind a curtain (stage 2), and moving behind a displacement device and the device moving behind a curtain while hiding the bucket (stage 3). We found that prenatal animal density had no effect on the search skills of the offspring, while kids with higher prenatal maternal cortisol levels performed better at the highest stage tested: finding an object after single invisible displacement. At this stage, singleton kids and males performed better than twins and females. Birth weight had no effect at this stage. The findings suggest that maternal cortisol in the observed range had a facilitating effect on cognitive development of goat kids.