Introduction

Animal scientists study reproductive behavior for a variety of reasons, including seeking tools for obtaining direct economic benefit through improved reproductive performance. Learning how reproductive behavior develops and is regulated affords the ability to facilitate the expression of sexual behavior, a goal in many breeding systems. Also, understanding how to inhibit reproductive behavior is advantageous in some production systems, such as feedlots. Domesticated livestock are also useful models for understanding the behavior of non-domesticated species or even humans.

Reproductive behavior, like other behaviors, is shaped by the ongoing interplay of the genotype, environment, and experience. An animal takes part in a continuous dialogue with the environment, which includes external stimuli such as social interactions or interspecific exchanges, contact with humans or predatory interactions, and relations with the inanimate world. In addition to developmental events, livestock reproductive behaviors like other traits are subject to both artificial selection and natural selection in the domesticated environment. Intensively managed livestock that are used in hand-breeding, artificial insemination, or single-sire mating schemes have experienced reduced selective pressure for traits such as sexual motivation or other physiological or structural attributes that enhance mating efficiency.

Many studies have been published that reveal the multiple physiological mechanisms controlling the expression of sexual behavior. These studies include descriptions of how the endocrine system facilitates the development of neural substrates involved in sexual behavior, referred to as the organizational actions of hormones. Also, studies have addressed the activational actions of hormones, i.e., how hormones stimulate sexual behaviors in adulthood. A smaller body of literature describes the physiological adjustments an animal makes in response to the expression of reproductive behavior. New findings in this area will help us more fully understand the range of behavioral and physiological adaptations animals can make. The topics presented in this article are primarily ethological (behavioral) in focus, and relate to production problems that may have behavioral solutions. The topics include courtship and mating systems; the sexual performance, motivation, and stimulation of males; and female attractivity, proceptivity, and receptivity.

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