November 23, 2008

Animal behaviour and welfare: Deer Part 4


Stress: Aggression: Handling: Welfare issues

By Dr Clive Dalton

As soon as farmed deer see strangers or dogs, they use speed as a defence. With bad handling they can charge the fences in blind panic and injure themselves.

What is stress?
  • Stress is the biggest cause of death in deer.
  • It is related to a number of things:
  • Season.
  • The way they are handled.
  • The environment.
  • Climatic conditions.
  • Physical abuse.
  • Stress is very contagious among deer and will spread rapidly through stock in yards.
General signs of aggression in deer
  • Panting.
  • Dribbling.
  • Urinating.
  • Bleating, roaring or barking.
  • Climbing on top of each other.
  • Flighty running around the pen.
  • Shaking and sweating.
  • Ears flopped down.
  • Burrowing under other deer in yard.
  • Hair loss.
  • Tongue hanging out.
  • Grinding their teeth.
  • Hair raised especially on the rump.
  • Glands in front of the eyes open.
  • Stags may lower their heads to charge.
  • Raise their heads in dominant stance.
  • Back into the corner of a pen.
  • Ears may be pricked up and pinned back.
  • Hinds will rear up on back legs.
  • Lash out with front feet.
  • Kicking with hind legs.
  • Biting/chewing the yards or walls.
  • Biting other deer.
  • Biting handlers.
Physical factors causing stress in deer

Deer in the wild prefer forest verges where they can come out to feed and go back in to hide. These conditions are rarely found on commercial farms
  • Climate
  • Lack of shade and shelter
  • Overcrowding in yards or truck.
  • Overheating in yards or trucks.
  • Condition of the yards or trucks.
  • Mud or dust in the yards.
  • Changing their routine.
  • Rough handling when mustering and yarding.
  • Strangers in the yards.
  • Driven in by strangers.
  • Dogs.
  • Motorbikes or noisy vehicles.
  • Incompetent handlers.
Human factors causing stress in deer
  • Rushing around when handling them.
  • Sudden movements.
  • Lack of confidence in the operator - the deer can sense this.
  • Handling them in a different way.
  • Aggression toward handlers.
  • The way you approach deer.
  • The way you approach deer in pens.
  • Sticks or prodders.
  • Lack of patience.
Effects of season and age on aggression in deer
  • Aggression in deer changes with the season.
  • Red stags in the roar from mid Feb to May, with a similar season for fallow deer.
  • Aggression increases with age.
  • Up to 2 years old can be handled safely but with care but over 2 years - use extreme caution.
  • Hinds fawn November - December and may show more aggression to fawning.
How to handle aggressive deer
  • Very carefully - with patience.
  • Get some experienced help.
  • Be assertive without being loud.
  • Use aids such as a proper shield.
  • Use door from the yards if necessary.
  • Draft out aggressive deer into another pen.
  • Take to deer in calm soothing manner.
  • Raise your arms full length in the air.
  • Use smooth flowing actions.
  • Walk away if necessary - this will calm you too.
  • Use other deer as a protective shield.
  • Shift deer in a different way through the yards.
  • Determine when enough is enough.
  • Respect farmer's advice (ask questions).
  • Never turn your back on an aggressive deer.
  • ALWAYS have an escape route.
Calming stressed deer
  • Talk to them in calm soothing tones when working with them.
  • Walk in calm steady movements and display total confidence.
  • Let deer know where you are, especially before opening doors.
  • Separate out agitated deer into smaller mobs.
  • Where possible allow standing time in yards for them to settle.
  • Have a radio playing to lessen sudden noises.
  • Give them more space in the yards - but this may give them more room to panic.
Animal welfare issues with farmed deer
  • Handling to avoid stress.
  • Lack of shade and shelter leading to heat stress.
  • Lack of cover in calving/fawning paddock.
  • Mortality of young calves and fawns.
  • Dystocia with crossbreeding.
  • Fence walking caused by stress.
  • Harvesting velvet without due regard to the Code of Welfare.
  • Transport - stress and injury caused by long journeys.
  • Slaughter - meat bruising, hide damage and low pH.
  • Offering farmed deer for tourists to hunt.
  • Live deer recovery from the wild to boost farming operations.
Animal health and environmental issues
  • Tb in deer.
  • The spread of Tb into Tb-free deer areas.
  • Escape of deer into deer-free areas with resulting environmental damage.

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