GPS technology reveals elements of herd dynamics in a pasture of mares of foals

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Japanese researchers have shown that GPS technology can be effectively used to monitor the distances between animals when mares and their foals are pastured together.

Fumio Sato and his colleagues have described their work in a report in the Journal of Equine Science, produced by the Japanese Society of Equine Science.

The study team noted that GPS units were now light and compact, and had proven valuable for analyzing the behavioral characteristics of horses in pastures.

They figured it may be feasible to calculate the distance between GPS units and ran an experiment that confirmed it using a field of mares and their foals.

The work involved six mares and their six foals who were monitored on a private breeding in Hidaka, in Japan’s Hokkaido Prefecture.

The  data gathered from the GPS head collars proved to be highly accurate, they reported.

It revealed some interesting patterns.

During the first month the newborn foals and their mothers stayed close together while, at the same time, the mothers made a point of keeping some distance from the other mares. The findings suggested that the mares had deliberately spread apart in the pasture.

During the second month of age, the dam–foal distance increased once, then gradually decreased up to the fifth month of age.

During the sixth month, the dam–foal distance was found to be significantly greater than the foal–foal distance, pointing to the youngsters spending an increasing amount of time with their peers.

The authors said research has shown there is a rapid increase in the time foals spend grazing after four months of age.

“Just before weaning at six months of age, the dam-foal distance significantly increased compared with the foal-foal distance,” they reported. “Contact between foals appeared to increase.”

They concluded that the method they used was valuable for analyzing changes in interindividual distances in a herd of thoroughbred dams and their foals.

“Most likely, calculation of the distance between GPS units worn on equine head collars is likely to become a very useful tool as an objective index for quantifying equine behavioral observations.”

The study team comprised Sato, Tomoki Tanabe, Harutaka Murase, Masataka Tominari and Masahito Kawa, who were variously affiliated with the Japan Racing Associations Hidaka Training and Research Center, Gifu University, and Hokkaido University.

Application of a wearable GPS unit for examining interindividual distances in a herd of Thoroughbred dams and their foals
Fumio Sato, Tomoki Tanabe, Harutaka Murase, Masataka Tominari and Masahito Kawai.
Journal of Equine Science Vol. 28 (2017) No. 1 p. 13-17

The study, published under a Creative Commons License, can be read here

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