Variation in Food Selection Among Lambs Effects of Basal Diet and Foods Offered in a Meal

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Journal of Animal Science

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In studies of behavior and nutrition, we typically determine nutritional needs and formulate diets for the average member of the herd, not for specific individuals within a herd. Nevertheless, variation among individuals could affect productivity of the group if the diet diverges too much from what individuals at the extremes prefer to eat. Thus, it is important to determine the degree to which individuals within a group vary in their food preferences when offered alternatives. Our first objective was to determine the degree to which lambs differed in preference for foods high in energy (barley) or protein (alfalfa) (Exp. 1). When we offered lambs barley and alfalfa for ad libitum consumption for 25 d, individuals varied in the amounts of barley (range: 221 to 991 g/d) and alfalfa (range: 51 to 558 g/d) they consumed (P < .0001). At one extreme, individuals preferred a diet of 6% alfalfa and 94% barley; at the other extreme, individuals preferred a diet of 70% alfalfa and 30% barley. Our second objective was to determine whether lambs from Exp. 1 compensated, when fed a basal diet that was lower in alfalfa than they preferred, by ingesting foods higher in alfalfa when offered a meal (Exp. 2). Lambs were ranked according to the percentage of alfalfa (range from 6 to 70%) and barley (range from 94 to 30%) they ate during Exp. 1 and then assigned alternately to two treatments: 1) basal diet with similar proportions of alfalfa and barley consumed ad libitum (preferred diet) or 2) basal diet with 10% less alfalfa than consumed ad libitum (low-alfalfa diet). We then conducted three trials in which lambs fed the different basal diets were offered a meal for 15 min/d for 2 d of two foods that differed in barley and alfalfa. During Trial 1, when we offered barley and alfalfa, lambs in both groups preferred barley (138 g) to alfalfa (46 g) (P < .05). During Trial 2, when the test foods (barley and alfalfa) were diluted with grape pomace (20%), lambs fed the preferred basal diet ate more barley (116 vs 64 g) and less alfalfa (48 vs 87 g) than lambs fed the low-alfalfa basal diet (P < .05). During Trial 3, when we offered a food high in barley (80% barley and 20% pomace) and a food high in alfalfa (70% alfalfa, 14% cornstarch, and 16% pomace), lambs fed the preferred basal diet ate more of the high-barley food (124 vs 73 g) and less of the high-alfalfa food (45 vs 98 g) than lambs fed the low-alfalfa basal diet (P < .05). Collectively, these results illustrate that lambs varied greatly in their preferences for foods that differ in energy (barley) and protein (alfalfa), and that when their preferred basal diet was altered, lambs compensated by ingesting food that complemented their basal diet during a daily meal. The addition of grape pomace in Trials 2 and 3 reduced the protein content of the high-barley and high-alfalfa foods such that the high-barley food was only marginally adequate to meet needs compared with the high-alfalfa food. Lambs fed the low-alfalfa basal diet compensated by eating more of the high-alfalfa food than lambs fed the preferred basal diet.

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