Polyethylene Glycol Influences Selection of Foraging Location by Sheep Consuming Quebracho Tannin

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Journal of Animal Science

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Tannins are a heterogeneous group of phenolic polymers that can induce detrimental effects when consumed by herbivores. Polyethylene glycol (PEG) binds to tannins and thus attenuates their negative effects. Our objective was to determine whether sheep actively seek PEG when fed tannins and thus modify their foraging location as a function of the spatial distribution of PEG. Lambs were first trained to recognize the beneficial effects of PEG by offering a meal high in quebracho tannin (QT), which presumably caused malaise, and then PEG (MW, 3,350), which presumably led to recovery from malaise. Animals were then tested in an experimental area where they could forage at two different locations that contained in Trial 1 1) PEG and QT in adjacent food boxes (PEG+QT) or 2) QT and in Trial 2 1) PEG or 2) QT. Preference for foraging locations was tested under three conditions: 1) no preload meal, 2) a meal high in quebracho tannin 1 h before testing, and 3) a basal diet high in quebracho tannin. Lambs spent more time (P = 0.012) and ate more tannin-containing food (P = 0.022) at locations where PEG was present (PEG+QT) than where it was absent (QT; Trial 1). Lambs responded to increased tannins in their bodies (Conditions 2 and 3) by reducing intake (P = 0.0001; Trial 2) at sites containing only QT and by increasing intake (P = 0.0001, Trial 1; P = 0.001, Trial 2) and foraging time (P = 0.072, Trial 1; P = 0.0001, Trial 2) at locations where PEG was available. Thus, PEG influenced foraging location by sheep consuming quebracho tannin. Accordingly, it may be possible to formulate range blocks that enable herbivores to ingest PEG in tannin-rich habitats. Strategic distribution of PEG in those habitats may attract animals to underutilized feeding sites.

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