Behavioral Education for Human, Animal, Vegetation, and Ecosystem Management (BEHAVE)


Roles of Novelty, Generalization, and Postingestive Feedback in the Recognition of Foods by Lambs

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Journal of Animal Science






American Society of Animal Science

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Ruminants select foods higher in nutrients and lower in toxins than the average of what is available whether fed in confinement or foraging on pastures or wild lands. Our objective was to better understand how sheep learn to select the most nutritious foods when they concurrently ingest different foods. We hypothesized that novelty and generalization are two ways sheep discriminate among foods. The first experiment determined whether lambs offered two foods in a meal (one a novel-flavored food and the other a familiar food) acquired a preference for the novel-flavored food following an infusion of energy (starch) into the rumen. Lambs did not increase preference for the novel-flavored food when the amount of starch infused (150 g) was held constant (P > 0.05). However, when the amount of starch infused was made directly proportional to the amount of novel-flavored food ingested, lambs quickly formed a preference for the novel-flavored food (P < 0.001). The second experiment determined whether lambs generalized preferences from familiar to novel foods. Lambs fed coconut-flavored milo grain for 51 d subsequently preferred coconut-flavored straw to plain straw (P < 0.001). Conversely, lambs that were not fed coconut-flavored milo grain preferred plain to coconut-flavored straw (P < 0.001). Lambs infused with a source of energy (starch, 100 g/[lamb x d]) consumed more coconut-flavored straw and less plain straw than lambs that had no infusions or lambs infused with a toxin (LiCl, 100 mg/kg BW; P < 0.05). Lambs infused once with LiCl had the lowest preference for coconut-flavored straw (P < 0.05). Lambs conditioned with starch had the highest intakes of coconut-flavored straw, even after starch infusions were suspended (P < 0.1). When straw was replaced by an energy-dense food (wheat grain), all lambs equally preferred coconut-flavored grain to plain grain (P < 0.001). Collectively, our results suggest that lambs learned to prefer a novel-flavored food when the amount of energy reward was contingent on the amount of novel-flavored food ingested, and that they generalized from familiar to unfamiliar foods based on common flavor cues. Once generalization occurred, postingestive feedback from nutrients and toxins calibrated preference according to the food's utility.


Originally published by the American Society of Animal Science.

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