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Using GPS units to monitor behaviour of mares and foals

Report by Mark Andrews. Published online 18.05.17

Global Positioning System (GPS)  units have been used for monitoring the movements of individual animals on pasture, and recording the location and speed of racehorses.

Now researchers in Japan have shown that the technology could be useful in studying mare and foal behaviour.

By recording the positions of the mare and the foal at the same time they could calculate the distance between them. Moving on from that they could monitor the way the distance between each mare and her foal changed as the foal grew.

Six Thoroughbred mares and their foals (four colts and two fillies) on a private farm in Hidaka, Japan, took part in the study. Once a month, the researchers attached small GPS units underneath their headcollars and recorded the animals’ position every five seconds (for at least 10 hours on each occasion). The work has been reported in the Journal of Equine Science.

They found that in the first month of life the foal stayed close to its mother. The distances between the mares (the inter-individual dam-dam distance) and the foals (the inter-individual foal-foal distance) was significantly greater than the average distance between the foal and its dam.

During the second month of age, the dam-foal distance increased once and then gradually decreased up to the fifth month of age. During the sixth month of age, they report that the dam-foal distance was significantly greater than the foal-foal distance.

Previous studies of mare and foal behaviour have relied on observation. This method provides a more objective and less labour-intensive method.

They conclude: “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.”

For more details, see:

Application of a wearable GPS unit for examining interindividual distances in a herd of Thoroughbred dams and their foals.

Sato F, Tanabe T, Murase H, Tominari M, Kawai M.

J Equine Sci. 2017;28(1):13-17.

doi: 10.1294/jes.28.13.