Applying Behavioral Principles

We often see livestock and wildlife as eating “machines” and don't understand that an animal’s history influences its diet and habitat preferences. Animals learn from 1) social interactions with mom, peers, and people, 2) feedback from nutrients and toxins in plants, and 3) interactions with their physical environment including location of water and predators.

Behavioral principles can provide solutions to problems faced by producers and land managers. Unlike the infrastructure of a ranch such as corrals, fences, and water development, behavioral solutions often cost little to implement and are easily transferred from one situation to the next. Unfortunately, we often ignore the power of behavior to improve systems. As animals grow and develop, their interactions with the environment shape their behavior. Experiences early in life are especially critical in shaping behavior but these interactions continue throughout life. Thus, the issue isn't if animals adapt to changes in their environments - they do every day of their lives. The only question is whether or not people want to be a part of that process.

Managers often make changes in management to increase productivity. Unfortunately, these changes can cause temporary decreases in production before improving. Understanding behavior and how to “train” animals to adapt to new situations can lessen these decreases in performance. Below are stories and examples of how managers train their animals to improve efficiency and productivity. If you have a story about training animals, we’d like to hear from you. Please e-mail me at beth.burritt@usu.edu.

Application Stories: