Effect of Age of Exposure on Consumption of a Shrub by Sheep

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Journal of Animal Science

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We investigated the influence of age of exposure to a specific forage on its consumption by young sheep both during and after that exposure. Prior exposure to the shrub Cercocarpus montanus enhanced subsequent consumption (P less than or equal to .05) of that shrub by lambs and yearlings during two experiments in consecutive years. Effects of prior exposure persisted as long as 9 mo without intervening exposure. Age of exposure influenced consumption in lambs both during the period of exposure (P less than or equal to .0001) and during feeding trials following exposure (P less than or equal to .07) in Exp. 1. Lambs exposed at 1 to 5 wk of age, when they are nonruminant and normally are dependent on the dam, browsed less of the time while at the shrub (P less than or equal to .02) and consumed less of the shrub (P less than .02) at a slower rate (P less than or equal to .03) than did lambs exposed at older ages. Lambs exposed at 4 to 8 wk of age, a period corresponding to the transition from nonruminant to ruminant digestion, consumed more shrub following exposure than did lambs exposed at younger or older ages (P less than equal to .05, unprotected least significant differences test). In Exp. 2, which compared naive yearlings with the experienced yearlings exposed as lambs in Exp. 1 the previous year, age of exposure did not influence consumption by yearling sheep following exposure; however, the number of months that had elapsed from the period of exposure varied from 0 to 13 among experimental groups and may have confounded results. Learning of forages appeared poor among nonruminant lambs; data were inconclusive concerning the efficiency of learning of lambs in the transition to ruminant digestion.

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