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Page last updated at 07:09 GMT, Wednesday, 11 May 2011 08:09 UK
Goats recognise their kids' voices
By Victoria Gill
Science and nature reporter, BBC News

Goat and kid (Image: Elodie Briefer)
Up close: goats rely a great deal on their sense of smell to recognise each other

Goats are able to recognise the voices of their very young kids, and differentiate them from other animals' offspring, according to researchers.

A mother goat is able to pick out her own baby from its voice alone by the time the kid is just five days old.

Researchers from Queen Mary, University of London played recordings of kids' bleats to female goats and studied their responses.

They report their findings in the journal Animal Cognition.

Dr Elodie Briefer, who led the research, was surprised to find that the animals were able to pick out their own kids' voices.

Goat and kid (Image: Elodie Briefer)
This helps us understand just how smart these animals are
Dr Elodie Briefer, Queen Mary, University of London

"A mother and kid rely a lot on smell to recognise one another and, in the wild, during the first week of their lives, the animals hide in vegetation and don't call much. It's a strategy they use to avoid predators," she explained to BBC News.

"The mothers call to the kids when they want them to come and feed, so we expected that kids would recognise the mothers voices, but not vice versa."

Dr Briefer's colleague, Alan McElligott, recently discovered that this was the case for fallow deer, which also adopt this anti-predator "hiding" strategy, although they do not belong to the same family of species as goats.

She and her team recorded and played back young kids' calls to the female goats at White Post Farm in Nottinghamshire, UK, and recorded their responses.

"We played the [mother] goats recordings of their own kids and those of other kids that were exactly the same age," she explained.

"Even [when the calls came from] kids that were five to six days old, we could see the mothers responding more to the voices of their own babies."

Hearing the voice of their own offspring, the females would react much faster - looking towards the speaker that the sound was coming from, moving around and calling in response.

The scientists say that understanding how domestic livestock behave and communicate is very important for good animal welfare.

"This helps us understand just how smart these animals are," said Dr Briefer. "Farmers might be able to adapt their own practices to accommodate this natural behaviour."

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