Diet selection and trade-offs between condensed tannins and nutrients in parasitized sheep

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Veterinary Parasitology

Publication Date

Summer 7-1-2019




Foraging behavior by parasitized herbivores can be interpreted as a decision-making process where individuals are faced with trading-off the ingestion of nutrients with the ingestion of potentially medicinal -and toxic- plant secondary compounds. We determined how parasitized sheep prioritize selection of crude protein, energy and a medicinal plant secondary compound (quebracho tannins-QT). Foraging preferences were tested in 40 lambs before experiencing a parasitic infection (Phase 1), during an infection (Phase 2; 10,000 L3 Haemonchus contortus per lamb) and after chemotherapy (Phase 3). Lambs were assigned to four groups (10 lambs/group) such that animals in Group 1 (Control) could choose between foods of high (HEP) or low (LEP) energy to protein ratios. The other groups received the same choice, but QT were added (4%) to HEP (Group 2), to LEP (Group 3) or to both foods (Group 4). All groups under a parasitic infection (Phase 2) increased their preference for HEP (from 0.44 to 0.66 ± 0.042; P < 0.05) and intake of digestible energy (from 0.106 to 0.126 ± 0.007 Mcal/kg BW; P < 0.05) relative to Phase 1, a pattern that remained during Phase 3. Only lambs receiving QT in HEP increased their intake of QT from Phase 1 to Phase 2 (P < 0.05). Fecal egg counts and blood parameters revealed a parasitic infection (P < 0.05) in Phase 2 that subsided in Phase 3, although no differences were detected among groups (P > 0.05). The importance of protein nutrition on parasitized animals has been highlighted before, but these results suggest that lambs prioritized the ingestion of energy-dense over protein-dense foods or medicinal condensed tannins when challenged by gastrointestinal parasitism. Consumption of medicinal tannins represented a side-effect of the preference manifested for energy-dense foods during testing.