Hand raising an orphan or unwanted male of any species is a dangerous business.
Bottle feeding a lamb, calf, or wild creature can be a great introduction to caring for livestock and create wonderful pets which are tame, affectionate, and a lot of fun. But as those loving babies grow up they can become downright dangerous – or even killers.
The problem is that animals imprint on a human raising it, says animal behaviour specialist Joe Stookey.
“When you bottle feed an animal it imprints on you as its surrogate mother,” says the University of Saskatchewan professor.
“The problem comes at sexual maturity. That wonderful pet changes. No matter how gentle and tame he was even as he grew to adult size, he sees you as a sexual competitor. And male animals aren’t gentle with their competitors.”
One of the worst things about hand-raised males is they can change so abruptly. One moment, they’re affectionate pets and then, apparently without provocation, they attack somebody, sometimes with deadly results.
“It’s only a problem with males,” says Stookey. “Handraised females grow up and mate with their own species. But males never do. They always regard you as their conspecific (animal of the same species).
“If you raise a ram lamb on a goat, that lamb grows up and never has any interest in sheep, not even a ewe in heat. He will court and mate with goats.”
There’s a simple answer to keeping a full-grown hand-raised animal as a pet: castrate it.
“It’s male hormones that lead to problems,” says Stookey. “So castration, removing the source of those hormones, can protect you and your family, friends and neighbours.”
Even small animals or birds can be a problem, says Stookey. A pet turkey or rooster can become too aggressive to be around kids or even adults.
Some animals, such as dairy bulls, have a reputation for being dangerously aggressive, and many people figure their behaviour is due to their genetics or abuse.
Not so, says Stookey. One of his fellow ethologists (animal behaviour specialists) hand raised bulls of several breeds, treating them the way most dairy calves are raised. When they became sexually mature, all were aggressive towards humans.
“He had Hereford bulls that were man killers,” says Stookey. “He proved it was raising bulls with human surrogate mothers that made them aggressive, not the way they were handled or their genetics.”