The interplay between exposure and preference for unpalatable foods by lambs

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Applied Animal Behavior Science

Publication Date

Winter 1-24-2019




Herbivores satiate on single foods ingested too frequently or in excess. We hypothesized that exposure to the same unpalatable food too frequently or in excess causes satiety, which in turn would reduce subsequent use and preference for this food when alternatives become available. In each of three experiments, twenty-four lambs were randomly assigned to three treatment groups (8 lambs/group), where they received high (Ad libitum), intermediate (100–200 g/d) or low exposure (20–40 g/d) to three unpalatable foods: The invasive weed medusahead (Experiment 1), an alfalfa:quebracho tannin ration (70:30; QT) (Experiment 2), or wheat straw (Experiment 3). After exposure, all groups in Experiments 1 and 3 received a simultaneous offer of the unpalatable food and a novel food that changed across four consecutive preference tests: Grape pomace (Test 1), barley straw (Test 2), tall fescue hay (Test 3), and beet pulp (Test 4). Lambs in Experiment 2 received a simultaneous offer of each of these novel foods and the same novel food containing 30% quebracho tannins. During exposure, lambs in Experiment 1 showed a low and cyclic pattern of medusahead intake, and the group with intermediate level of medusahead exposure showed greater intake values than the Ad libitum group, followed by the group with the lowest level of exposure (P < 0.05). For the rest of the experiments, intake was Ad libitum > intermediate > low level of exposure (P < 0.05). During preference tests, lambs with the least level of exposure to the unpalatable foods tended to consume more medusahead (35% to 37%; P = 0.11) or wheat straw (15 to 30%; P = 0.10) than lambs that received greater levels of exposure. In contrast, differential exposure to QT did not influence subsequent preference for tannin-containing foods (P = 0.33), but animals with the greatest level of exposure to QT consumed 24% more alternatives (i.e., non-tannin containing foods) than lambs that had received the lowest level of QT exposure (P < 0.05). Intake of alternative novel foods during preference tests increased with increments in nutritional quality from grape pomace and barley straw to tall fescue hay and beet pulp (P < 0.05), suggesting that lambs discriminated the nutritional value of the novel foods. In conclusion, repeated exposure to unpalatable foods has the potential to further reduce their utilization when alternatives –even when novel– become available. This effect appeared to be influenced by the chemical characteristics of the unpalatable food and it has implications for the coexistence of plant species in grazed communities.