I suppose this is the best forum for this thread, though it could probably live happily in multiple others.
I want to make this a sort of compendium of Things Animals Do (subtitled, perhaps: As Witnessed By Their People). The focus will probably be livestock, though it need not be exclusive.
What I specifically have in mind are behaviors of animals that one is unlikely to read in any book. Behaviors, specifically, that indicate some sort of function, and that relate to how we care for, or can care for, our animals. Behaviors that are probably only witnessed through long observation and interaction.
It would be ideal that things mentioned in this thread apply to animals, plural. While it might be interesting that you had one (and only one) chicken that did X, it may not be relevant. Use your judgment.
I think behaviors listed might most usefully include a few points: 1. A description of the behavior itself; 2. A suggestion of the reason behind the behavior; 3. Possible ways in which we can use these behaviors to our advantage.
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I'll start with a couple examples.
1. We have an alleyway that connects our main pasture to our barn lot which consists of an old woven wire fence, grown up in brush and eastern red cedars, and paralleled by two strands of hot wire about 12 feet from the woven wire. Over the years, I have noticed that the cows tend to move down the alleyway at a brisk trot, and they tend to hug the fence line, brushing past the cedar branches as they go.
My suspicion has always been that they do this to dislodge flies. It was always only a suspicion, however, until this spring. I was bringing in one Jersey, just before sunrise, from a different pasture, through a makeshift alley comprised of a boundary barbed wire fence and a single strand of hot wire. The boundary fence is almost entirely clear, with the occasional bit of brush and one or two spindly cedar trees. The cow walked comfortably down the alley, then broke into a run just as she reached one of the cedars, brushing through the branches. I was in the perfect position, and the early morning light was perfect, to see a cloud of flies dislodged and hanging there in her wake.
I always knew the cows were knocking flies off, but I could never tell, until this instance, just how effective this behavior was, nor if the effects were sustained or temporary.
The eastern red cedar is a tree well suited to this behavior due to its springy branches and dense leaves/needles. I also wonder, though, if the insect-repellent properties of cedar might also come into play. Folks line closets in red cedar to repel moths, and I've read of beekeepers using cedar wood and oil to keep varroa mites under control. (Edited to add:) I can often smell the cedar when the cows brush past it, so perhaps enough aromatic oils are released onto the cow (or simply into the air) to serve as a sort of insect repellent?
There are many benefits to an overgrown fencerow. This is one more.
2. I've only ever raised pigs behind hot wire. I don't know if this holds true for other fencing methods, but with hot wire the first thing the pigs do in a new paddock is root around the perimeter. The rate at which they root around the perimeter and the rate at which they root around the rest of the paddock are far from equal; they seem to simply spend more time on the edges.
As I thought about this, I began to suspect that this is done for two reasons: 1. To understand just what their limits are; and 2. To establish a sort of tactile and visual warning, not unlike the warning track on a baseball diamond. This allows them to presumably reduce their anxiety, knowing they don't have to worry about accidentally bumping into a hot wire unexpectedly. When they get to this tilled (and re-tilled) area, they know they're close to potential pain.
As far as how to put this behavior to use, it seems far preferable to divide a paddock into the smallest practicable pieces, if one is trying to clear or work up an area. More perimeter fencing (through subdivisions) means more and quicker and more thorough rooting behavior. So if one has, say, a 1/4 acre paddock to clear, it would be far preferable to divide it up into four or more sections rather than enclosing the entire 1/4 acre at once.
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There were some interesting, fitting observations in the In Defense Of A Rooster thread, but I'll leave it to the individual authors there to add them here, if they're so inclined.
It took me awhile, but now I know the different baaa's my sheep make. There is about 20 different kinds. I have had sheep now for 9 years and certain baas can wake me up in the middle of the night and make me head for the barn. Others, they are just nickering between sheep as the "talk" to one another; I sleep through them.
One behavior I have yet to disprove is white eye lashes. A cattle dealer told me when I was a kid that any cow with white eye lashes was "flighty", or jumpy or prone too being wild. I have found this even extends beyond cattle to sheep too, basically white face sheep and cows being rather flighty like Montadale's for instance. But Holsteins, yes, ones with white eye lashes are really flighty.
Travis Johnson wrote:It took me awhile, but now I know the different baaa's my sheep make.
Ah, this is fascinating, and is one of the things I love about farming; particularly, when you realize you now know something, while acknowledging you can't say when you learned it, because the knowledge just kind of gradually appeared.
My animal-noise meter isn't quite that well-tuned, at least not yet, but I have noticed that I can generally tell when a bird makes a particularly distressed sound. There's a difference, for example, in a chicken's "the dog is [playfully, if unbeknownst to her] chasing me" and "there's a coyote trying to eat me [in the front yard, of all places!]." I'll still check, when it's the dog, because I'm not certain, but when it's the coyote something tells my ears to tell my brain that it's definitely different. In other words, when it's the dog I don't have the ability to definitely say "Everything's fine," but when it's the coyote I DO have the ability to say "Everything's NOT fine."
And it's the same with ducks. Ducks are noisy (all day, AND all night). Twice in the past two years we have had an animal attack our birds (once a dog, once a coyote) when I was perhaps 200 yards away and some of them were in sight. Both times I thought, I need to check that out, and both times I was right. I had the added advantage of sight--I couldn't see the offending critter, but I could see some of the ducks and make note of their behavior. In the first instance they were in a pasture, and the way they were moving about, along with the vocalizations, told me something wasn't right, though I couldn't explain to you what that was, specifically. In the second instance they were all gathered around the pond, and accompanying their distressed quacking was a rush into the pond.
That second behavior is now my benchmark, because I'm often working in sight of the pond, and the ducks (and geese) are often very loud around the pond. When they start a quacking chorus, as they do multiple times per day, I look to see if they're running into the pond as well. If not, I can safely assume everything is fine.
I recently witnessed a young calf, while grazing, chomp down on a plant that is toxic to cows (for the life of me I cannot remember the name of the plant) and immediately stop, open her mouth and not eat the plant, leaving behind said plant covered in saliva. Somehow she knew not to eat it.
"Study books and observe nature; if they do not agree, throw away the books." ~ William A. Albrecht
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