Self-Medicative Behavior of Sheep Experiencing Gastrointestinal Nematode Infections and the Postingestive Effects of Tannis

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

All Graduate Theses and Dissertations

Publication Date



Diet selection and self-medication are fundamental to the survival of all species. The abilities to choose healthy foods in response to past consequences are basic elements of evolution. This study explores self-medication regarding tannins both as a medication and as a dietary challenge. In the first study, sheep with natural parasite infections were offered a lowquality supplement containing a dose of tannins considered to be therapeutic (medicine), while the control infected lambs received the same supplement without tannins (placebo). This study included a group of parasite-free lambs. The parasitized lambs ate more of the tannincontaining supplement than non-parasitized lambs for the first 12 d of the study, when parasite burdens were high, but differences became smaller and disappeared towards the end of the study when parasite burdens decreased. This result indicated lambs ability to detect the presence of internal parasites and to learn to ingest tannin when followed by relief from parasite burdens. In the second study, lambs grazed on pastures with forages containing saponins (alfalfa), iii alkaloids (endophyte-infected tall fescue) and tannins (birdsfoot trefoil). I observed the foraging behavior of groups of lambs after intra-ruminal infusions of tannins (treatment). Lambs that first received intraruminal infusions of tannins and then were offered 2-way choices between varieties of forages with high and low concentrations of either saponins, alkaloids, or tannins increased their preference for the high-saponin variety of alfalfa and the high-alkaloid variety of tall fescue relative to lambs not infused with tannins (controls). Lambs infused with tannins and offered choices among the 3 forages with high concentrations of secondary compounds also manifested higher preference for the high-alkaloid variety of tall fescue than control lambs. In contrast, lambs infused with tannin reduced their preference for the high-tannin variety of birdsfoot trefoil. This research has implications for many situations where forages with secondary compounds are available but underutilized. Landscapes where such forages are available could be used effectively with little or no harm to livestock if medicinal forages or supplements are made available and offered as alternatives so animals can learn about their benefits of chemical complementarities among different plant species.