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Open Access Research article

Physiological and behavioral reactions elicited by simulated and real-life visual and acoustic helicopter stimuli in dairy goats

Franz Josef van der Staay134, Martin Joosse2, Henk van Dijk2, Teun Schuurman1 and Jan van der Meulen1*

Author Affiliations

1 BioMedical Research, Wageningen University and Research Center, Lelystad, The Netherlands

2 National Aerospace Laboratory, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

3 Program Emotion & Cognition, Department of Farm Animal Health, Veterinary Faculty, University Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

4 Rudolf Magnus Institute of Neuroscience, University Utrecht, Utrecht, The Netherlands

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BMC Veterinary Research 2011, 7:16  doi:10.1186/1746-6148-7-16

Published: 15 April 2011

Abstract

Background

Anecdotal reports and a few scientific publications suggest that flyovers of helicopters at low altitude may elicit fear- or anxiety-related behavioral reactions in grazing feral and farm animals. We investigated the behavioral and physiological stress reactions of five individually housed dairy goats to different acoustic and visual stimuli from helicopters and to combinations of these stimuli under controlled environmental (indoor) conditions. The visual stimuli were helicopter animations projected on a large screen in front of the enclosures of the goats. Acoustic and visual stimuli of a tractor were also presented. On the final day of the study the goats were exposed to two flyovers (altitude 50 m and 75 m) of a Chinook helicopter while grazing in a pasture. Salivary cortisol, behavior, and heart rate of the goats were registered before, during and after stimulus presentations.

Results

The goats reacted alert to the visual and/or acoustic stimuli that were presented in their room. They raised their heads and turned their ears forward in the direction of the stimuli. There was no statistically reliable rise of the average velocity of moving of the goats in their enclosure and no increase of the duration of moving during presentation of the stimuli. Also there was no increase in heart rate or salivary cortisol concentration during the indoor test sessions. Surprisingly, no physiological and behavioral stress responses were observed during the flyover of a Chinook at 50 m, which produced a peak noise of 110 dB.

Conclusions

We conclude that the behavior and physiology of goats are unaffected by brief episodes of intense, adverse visual and acoustic stimulation such as the sight and noise of overflying helicopters. The absence of a physiological stress response and of elevated emotional reactivity of goats subjected to helicopter stimuli is discussed in relation to the design and testing schedule of this study.