The study evaluates the effect of different test conditions on the temperament of farm mink, using the stick test. We hypothesised that mink perceive some test conditions as more fear eliciting. Specifically, we hypothesised that (A) the dimension of the presented stimulus in the test, a wooden stick, will not influence the outcome of the stick test, (B1) fear responses will increase when the test person is bending over the cage, (B2) unfamiliarity in colour and type of the test person’s coverall will suppress exploratory behaviour (C) mink will increase their exploratory behaviour in the test when having access to a shelf in the front part of the cage. The experiment was performed over two years with 600 pair-housed (male + female) juvenile mink year 1 and 500 individually housed adult mink females year 2. We studied the acute test conditions in terms of access to a shelf in the front of the cage and the posture of the test person with pair-housed juvenile mink. We studied the influence of the dimension of the stimulus presented and the type of test person clothing on the mink’s response in the stick test with individually housed adult mink females. During access to a shelf in the front of the cage, the prevalence of mink categorised as exploratory was higher (χ12 = 22.9, P < 0.001), and the prevalence of mink categorised as fearful (χ12 = 28.4) and indecisive (χ12 = 7.3) was lower (P < 0.01). This supports our hypothesis that a shelf in the front of the cage increases the mink’s exploratory behaviour in the test. The smaller test stimulus – relative to the standard-sized tongue spatula – resulted in fewer exploratory (χ12 = 8.0, P = 0.005) and more indecisive mink (χ12 = 5.1, P = 0.025). The features of the test person – different postures and type of clothing – did not influence the score of the stick test (P > 0.28), although a bending test posture induced a minor increase in the distance kept by juvenile mink (χ12 = 115.1, P < 0.001). We conclude that the test conditions with a shelf in the front of the cage and the size of the test stimulus influence the temperament of farm mink as categorised in the stick test. The stick test appears robust to relative large differences in test person features; however, it is important to keep a distance between any front shelf and the stick during the test and to use a standard tongue spatula in order to get comparable and valid test results.
|Publication Title||Applied Animal Behaviour Science|
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