Lambs Fed Protein or Energy Imbalanced Diets Forage in Locations and on Foods that Rectify Imbalances

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Applied Animal Behaviour Science

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Ruminants eat a variety of foods from different locations in the environment. While water, cover, social interactions, and predators are all likely to influence choice of foraging location, differences in macronutrient content among forages may also cause ruminants to forage in different locations even during a meal. We hypothesized that lambs forage at locations containing foods that complement their basal diet and meet their nutritional needs. Based on this hypothesis, we predicted that lambs (n=12) fed a basal diet low in protein and high in energy would forage where a high-protein food (Food P) was located, and that lambs (n=12) fed a basal diet low in energy and high in protein would forage where a high-energy food (Food E) was located. Food P was a ground mixture of blood meal (50%), grape pomace (30%), and alfalfa (20%) that contained 47% crude protein (CP) and 2.211 Mcal/kg digestible energy (DE). Food E was a ground mixture of cornstarch (50%), grape pomace (30%), and rolled barley (20%) that contained 6% CP and 3.07 Mcal/kg DE. Food P provided 212 g CP/Mcal DE, whereas Food E provided 20 g CP/Mcal DE. Lambs growing at a moderate rate require 179 g CP and 3.95 Mcal DE. During Trial 1, we determined if lambs foraged to correct a nutrient imbalance, and if they preferred a variety of foods (Foods P and E) to only one food at a location (Food P or E). During Trial 2, we determined if nutrient-imbalanced lambs foraged in the location with the food that corrected the imbalance when the location of the foods changed daily. During Trial 3, lambs were offered familiar foods (Foods P and E) at the location furthest — and novel foods (wheat and soybean meal) at the location nearest — the shelter of their pen. During all three trials, lambs foraged most at the location with the food that contained the highest concentration of the macronutrient lacking in their basal diet, but they always ate some of both foods. Lambs did not feed exclusively at the location with a variety of foods (P and E). Rather, they fed at the location nearest the shelter that contained the macronutrient lacking in their diet. As availability of the food with the needed macronutrient declined in one location, lambs moved to the nearest location that had food with the needed macronutrient. When food that complemented their basal diet was moved to a different location, lambs foraged in the new location. Collectively, these results show that lambs challenged by imbalances in energy or protein selected foods and foraging locations that complemented the nutrient content of their macronutrient imbalanced basal diets.

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