Maternal behaviour is a highly integrated mechanism essential for the survival of young and the growth of the offspring, especially in extensive husbandry systems. At least two essential components can be differentiated in the maternal behaviour of cattle and sheep: the care the females give to the young and their selectivity which limits that care to specific young. In addition, maternal behaviour is one of the major expressions of the interactions of the individual with its social environment. Relationships between those different traits are elaborated in this paper. We report results on one experiment on cattle and of two others on sheep. Friesian cows differed substantially in their selectivity from cows of a more primitive breed, the Salers, but also in the amount of social interaction with the other cows as well as with their own calves. Social behaviour of sheep from two breeds and their crossbreds were observed. Differences in maternal and social behaviours and in reaction to humans were found between those different breeds it seems that these traits are not genetically linked. Moderate heritability estimates of social traits were found in a third experiment on sheep. These may have important consequences in terms of genetic selection.
Proceedings of the World Congress on Genetics Applied to Livestock Production, Volume 27: Reproduction; fish breeding; genetics and the environment; genetics in agricultural systems; disease resistance; animal welf, , 23–30, 1998
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