Browsing Opportunities in Ohio Forest Increases Breadth of Natural Behaviors Displayed by Goats

Brietta Latham and Madison Pinkerton
Category: 
Undergraduate (Animal Sciences – Health)
Advisor: 
Dr. Benjamin Wenner
Department: 
Animal Sciences
Abstract: 

This pilot study investigated alternative strategies to manage invasive plant species in Ohio forests using goats. As goats are traditionally grazed on pastures, the aim of this study was to understand how the behavioral repertoire of the goats differs between forest and pasture environments. Boer-influenced goats (n=11 total) were placed in two separate plots, with 3 goats in the pasture and 8 in the forest. To determine the behaviors and postures of the animals in each treatment group, the goats were observed live or over video for 2 to 3 hours each morning and evening over the course of 6 days using scan sampling at 2-minute intervals. Variables labeled “inactive”, “grazing”, and “other” were not normal, so these variables were log-transformed before analysis. All other variables (ruminating, locomotion, browsing, self-grooming, and postures) were normally distributed. A repeated-measures ANOVA was used to determine if goat behaviors and postures differed between forest and pasture treatment groups (SAS, Version 9.4). Goats in the forest treatment group tended to ruminate more often (P=0.09), while goats in the grass treatment group spent more time grooming (P=0.02) and engaging in other behaviors (P=0.04). Between the morning and afternoon observation sessions, goats spent more time inactive (P<0.0001) and ruminating (P<0.0001) in the morning while grazing (P<0.0001) increased and locomoting (P=0.07) tended to increase in the afternoon. In terms of postures, there was increased lying (P=0.005) in the morning sessions compared to the afternoon. Goats in the forest had a tendency to assume a bipedal posture (P=0.097) more often in the afternoon than in the morning. Based on the compiled time budget for each treatment group, it was also determined that goats in the forest dedicated more time to feeding than those in the pasture (53% versus 38% of total observations, respectively). These data indicate that while goats housed in the forest plot do express a wider range of behaviors and postures, they tend to spend more time obtaining nutrients necessary for maintenance.  However, the impact of using goats in the clearing of invasive species in forested environments on their biological functioning requires further investigation.