Effect of an Unfamiliar Location on the Consumption of Novel and Familiar Foods by Sheep

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Applied Animal Behavior Science

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We studied how moving lambs to an unfamiliar environment affected their intake of novel and familiar foods. In the first experiment, half the lambs (n = 14) were conditioned to avoid a novel food (wheat) by pairing its ingestion with lithium chloride (LiCl); the other half (n = 14) received wheat but no LiCl. Half of the lambs that received LiCl and half that did not were moved to a location unfamiliar to the lambs. Lambs at both locations were offered wheat (familiar but aversive to half the lambs), oats (novel food), and alfalfa pellets (familiar food). In the second experiment, one group of lambs (n = 16) remained at the familiar location; the other group (n = 16) was moved to a novel location. Both groups were offered alfalfa pellets (familiar food) with or without onion powder (novel flavor), wheat bran (novel food), and rye with 1% LiCl (novel and toxic food). We found that: (1) lambs consumed a familiar but aversive food (wheat) more readily at the unfamiliar location than at the familiar location (P = 0.052); (2) lambs ate less of the novel foods (oats and wheat bran) at the unfamiliar location (P = 0.09 and P < 0.001, respectively); (3) intake of the familiar food (alfalfa pellets) did not differ between locations on day 1 of either experiment. These results suggest that: (1) food neophobia is greater in unfamiliar than familiar environments, which may cause animals to eat more familiar foods in unfamiliar environments, even if the familiar foods contain toxins. They further suggest that animals should be: (2) exposed to novel foods in familiar environments to expedite intake of novel foods; (3) provided with familiar foods in novel environments to prevent declines in intake; (4) conditioned to avoid foods (e.g. fruit trees, poisonous plants) in the environments where they will forage to increase the persistence of the aversion.

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