Food Aversion Learning: Ability of Lambs to Distinguish Safe From Harmful Food

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Journal of Animal Science

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We studied the ability of lambs to select safe foods in the presence of harmful foods. In a series of feeding experiments, 3- to 6-mo-old lambs were offered a choice between 1) a familiar, safe and a novel, harmful food, 2) a novel, safe and a novel, harmful food and 3) a familiar, harmful and a novel, safe food. All harmful foods were palatable feeds that had been treated with lithium chloride (LiCl), a non-lethal gastrointestinal poison. When lambs ingested a meal composed of a novel food containing LiCl and a familiar, safe food, lambs subsequently avoided the novel food. Lambs avoided the novel food even when the familiar food contained LiCl. The response of lambs varied when lambs were given a choice between a novel, safe food and a novel food containing LiCl. Lambs either avoided the novel food containing LiCl and ingested the safe food or they limited their intake of both novel foods. Their response was dependent on the novelty of the food containing LiCl. When a novel, palatable food contained 2% LiCl, lambs always ate some of the food, even after experiencing illness from ingesting it. Lambs experienced with foods containing LiCl displayed greater food neophobia than lambs naive to LiCl-treated foods. Thus, novelty was the major criterion that lambs used to associate foods with gastrointestinal illness.

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