Observations of Sheep Foraging in Familiar and Unfamiliar Environments: Familiarity with the Environment Influences Diet Selection
Applied Animal Behaviour Science
Scott, C., Banner, R. and Provenza, F. (1996). Observations of sheep foraging in familiar and unfamiliar environments: familiarity with the environment influences diet selection. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 49(2), 165-171. doi:10.1016/0168-1591(96)01040-4
We determined if familiarity with a pasture decreased the importance of social interactions in food selection and choice of foraging location by lambs with different dietary preferences. Lambs in three treatments (18 lambs per treatment) were reared separately for 2 months and exposed daily to a 1-ha experimental pasture (Treatment 1), to a 0.5-ha pasture with similar forage species to those in the 1-ha experimental pasture (Treatment 2), or reared in confinement and not allowed to graze (Treatment 3). Half of the lambs in each treatment were fed milo (Sorghum bicolor) and half were fed wheat (Triticum aestivum) daily for 2 months to condition preferences for milo and wheat, respectively. During testing, subgroups of three lambs that were conditioned to prefer milo and three that were conditioned to prefer wheat (three subgroups per treatment) were exposed simultaneously to the 1-ha experimental pasture to determine if social influences affected food selection when milo and wheat were placed at opposite ends of the pasture (100 m apart). We found: (1) subgroups of lambs familiar with the pasture typically consumed different foods, depending on whether they preferred milo or wheat; (2) subgroups of lambs naive to the pasture typically foraged together on the same food; (3) preferences for either milo or wheat persisted for animals familiar with the experimental pasture, whereas lambs naive to the pasture acquired preferences for both foods. Thus, these results suggest social factors can override food preferences in a novel environment, but food preferences may be more influential in food selection in a familiar environment.