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Interpretive Summary: Social isolation of goats: significance of visual contact with conspecifics on behavioral and physiological responses

By Anne Zinn 

A paper recently published in the Journal of Animal Science evaluated the behavioral and physiological response in goats during isolation with and without visual contact with their herd- or pen-mates. Social isolation of goats from their herd- or pen-mates is inevitable, but has been shown to increase distress in goats and significantly affect their behavior and physiology. While research has been done regarding the benefits of using repeated exposures to stressors that are inevitable in practical situations, the results across species have not been consistent. Therefore, the research team from Fort Valley State University aimed to determine the behavioral and physiological responses to different social isolation treatments with and without visual contact with the same species and to different durations of isolation, and the physiological responses to social isolation in goats previously exposed to the same isolation treatments.

The results of the present study showed that goals with no visual contact with their herd- or pen-mates during social isolation had greater physiological stress responses and spent more time vocalizing and/or trying to escape the pen. Epinephrine, norepinephrine, glucose, and nonesterified fatty acid concentrations were lower and cortisol concentrations and lymphocyte counts were higher when goats were exposed to isolation the second time. Additionally, results indicated that short-term isolation stress for 90 minutes or less was not intense enough to cause changes in the leukocyte profile and possible negative effect on immune function. Overall, the results of this study showed that maintaining visual contact is very important in goats when socially isolated, such that they continually work to maintain visual contact even by trying to escape the pen.

The full paper can be found on the Journal of Animal Science webpage.