Preference for Flavored Wheat Straw by Lambs Conditioned with Intraruminal Infusions of Acetate and Propionate

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Animal Science

Publication Date







We hypothesized that volatile fatty acids in rumen fluid are feedback signals that can condition food preferences or aversions in sheep. Three predictions were tested based on this hypothesis: 1) low doses of sodium propionate or sodium acetate condition preferences, but high doses condition aversions (Exp. 1 and 2); 2) preferences are not caused by osmotic load (Exp. 3 and 4); and 3) low doses of mixtures of acetate:propionate condition preferences (Exp. 4). In Exp. 1, 2, and 4, lambs were divided into four groups (10 lambs/group), and lambs in Exp. 3 were divided into two groups (five lambs/group). In all experiments, alfalfa pellets were the basal diet. On even days, half of the lambs were offered chopped wheat straw containing a distinctive flavor, whereas the other half received straw with a different flavor. During straw ingestion, different groups of lambs received intraruminal infusions of different concentrations (4, 8, or 12% of the daily DE received) of sodium propionate (Exp. 1), sodium acetate (Exp. 2), NaCl at osmotic loads equivalent to those when propionate supplied 4% of the daily DE received (Exp. 3), or different proportions of sodium acetate:sodium propionate (55:45 or 75:25% of the DE of the infusion [4% of the daily DE received]), or equimolar amounts of NaCl (Exp. 4). On odd days, the flavors were switched, and no infusions were administered. After 8 d of conditioning, lambs were offered a choice of wheat straw with the two distinctive flavors. Lambs preferred the flavor paired with the lowest doses of propionate (P = .07) and acetate (P = .08) but avoided the highest doses (P < .001). Excesses of VFA may condition aversions due to increases in rumen fluid osmolality and(or) excessive rates of supply of energy or sodium to the rumen. Lambs also preferred flavored straw associated with combinations of acetate and propionate (P < .001), especially at the highest concentration of propionate (P = .10). Lambs avoided NaCl in Exp. 3 (P < .001) and did not form preferences for NaCl in Exp. 4 (P > .05). Thus, osmolalities were not responsible for flavor preferences. In conclusion, our results support the hypothesis that food preferences and aversions reside along a continuum that depends on the amount of VFA infused.

First Page


Last Page