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Understanding Consequences to Change Animal Behavior

When someone asks you for help, do you prefer to be asked nicely and then be rewarded with a “thank you” or “nice job?” Or do you prefer they scream to get you moving and then criticize you when you’re finished? What ridiculous questions! We all prefer to be treated with respect. Yet, think how we often treat our animals with yelling, hot shots, etc. Using positive, gentle techniques in the long run is normally faster and easier on you and your animals. Here’s an animal behavior principle and some examples of how we can use it to our benefit.

Behavior Depends on Consequences

This principle tells us that positive consequences increase the likelihood of an animal repeating a behavior and negative consequences decrease the likelihood of an animal repeating a behavior. Positive consequences have fewer negative side effects which is good for us and the animals.

Example 1: Moving animals through chutes.

squeezechuteheifer_000Negative Action:
Yell, make a lot of noise and use a hot shot.

Animal moves through shoot, eventually.

Side effects:
1) Animal kicks or jumps over the corral or alley way fence endangering the handler and itself.
2) Animals refuse to enter the corral or alley ways the next time they are worked.
3) They lose weight.
4) They suffer from increased stress and are more like to become sick.

Positive Action:
Move animals quietly through chutes using low-stress livestock handling techniques.

Result: Animal moves through chute quickly, quietly and calmly.

Side Effects: Animals willing enter corral easily the next time they are worked.

Example 2: Getting animals to eat a high energy food.

Starve animals until they eat the new food.  Offer them all the new food they can eat in a the new environment.

Animals refuse to eat. After several days, they try the new food which results in positive consequences. They increase intake of the food quickly but suffer from acidosis because their rumen microbes have not had time to adjust. They decrease intake and slowly increase intake but never eat as well as the animals above. They gain weight more slowly and reach final finish weight several weeks behind the animals above.

Side effects:
Animals gain weight slowly. Many get sick and have to be treated with antibiotics.

Introduce animals to foods they will be fed in the feedlot with their mothers in a familiar environment. Offer familiar foods in a new environment and animals eat it readily. Gradually increase food to allow animals’ rumens to adjust to new food high in energy.

Animals eat food and gain weight quickly.

Here’s how rancher Jim Winder has used this principle to move livestock across large landscapes. In this 4 minute vide he describes the problems with the status quo and then how he uses rewards and causing discomfort to reinforce natural herding behavior.

Here’s the link for tablet readers.

Want to learn more?  Visit the BEHAVE website for all kinds of information about how animals learn and choose what to eat.

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