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Study finds sheep and humans have more in common when it comes to sharing stress

When it comes to leaning on each other after a big day, whether it’s a long day at the office or a haircut at the shearing shed, sheep and humans have more than we thought. A new study finds that they have something in common.

A recent study by CSIRO in Armidale found that individual sheep herd toward other sheep who were there when exposed to stress, and when it comes to sheep, stressful experiences are key to bonding.

The study was published in the online journal of the Royal Society biology letter.

CSIRO senior research scientist and study co-author Dana Campbell said the findings came from an attempt to understand social relationships between sheep.

“Temporary stress can occur when dogs are flocked, released in the yard, or standard controlled animal husbandry practices such as shearing,” says Dr. Campbell.

“We picked these things and spent the day doing them,” she said.

Equipped with GPS devices on their backs, the sheep were set free to rest after a busy day in the paddock.

Studies show that sheep generally prefer individuals they are familiar with.(By: Caroline Lee )

“We found that sheep who experienced this stress together were more likely to spend time together compared to groups of sheep who did not share this experience,” said Dr. Campbell.

A study conducted prior to this study found that sheep can not only recognize each other, but can even identify people they’ve seen before from photographs.

GPS data showed that sheep tended to flock with their mates, but stressful experiences were a big factor in forming bonds.

Two women squatting with sheep in a paddock
Dana Campbell (left) and Hamide Keshavarji in the paddock of the CSIRO facility.(By: Dana Campbell)

Dr. Campbell said the study could help sheep beyond the reassurance of having someone to comfort them when they come home after a long day at the pasture, ranch or shearing shed. I got

“If you have hundreds or thousands of groups of sheep, you can describe them and make sure you’re not splitting groups of sheep that are close to each other.”

“Having a social companion can actually reduce stress,” says Dr. Campbell.

Reducing the effects of necessary stress is an important step for farmers, but the daily activities involved in sheep production are unlikely to cause undue stress.

“Sheep recover from them as long as they are temporary stressful events.

“If you have these stressful procedures that you have to undertake, keep the duration as short as possible,” Dr. Campbell said.

Sheep looking to each other for comfort is an important finding from this study, but there is still much to learn.

“Now that we can actually measure and understand these relationships, the questions are endless.”

https://www.abc.net.au/news/rural/2023-02-08/shared-stressful-experiences-affect-social-proximity-in-sheep/101944540 Study finds sheep and humans have more in common when it comes to sharing stress

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