Preference by Sheep for Endophyte-Infected Tall Fescue Grown Adjacent to or at a Distance from Alfalfa

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Cambridge University Press

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Two experiments were conducted to assess preference by sheep for endophyte-infected tall fescue growing in monoculture at least 5 m away from alfalfa (fescue-middle (FM)) over endophyte-infected tall fescue growing adjacent (0.2 to 1 m; fescue–alfalfa (FA)) to alfalfa (FA), and the effect of legume scent on preference for endophyte-infected tall fescue. In Experiment 1, 10 six-month-old lambs were offered for 12 days a choice of freshly harvested FA and FM. On days 13 and 14, lambs were offered the same choice, except cages (to allow access only to scent) containing freshly harvested alfalfa were put in the feeders containing FA, whereas cages containing freshly harvested FM were included with the feeders containing FM. Forage intake was measured 1 h after feeding and at three consecutive 2-h intervals thereafter. FA contained greater (P<0.002) concentrations of the alkaloid ergovaline (360±27 ppm) and CP (8±0.4%) than FM (219±27 ppm and 6±0.4%, respectively). Lambs preferred (P<0.05) FA to FM during the 1st hour of feeding, but the differences became smaller and disappeared in later feeding periods (P<0.005). Lambs offered FA with alfalfa scent or FM with FM scent preferred (P<0.05) FA but only on the 2nd day. In Experiment 2, 10 six-month-old lambs were offered a choice of FM with cages (to allow access only to scent) containing freshly harvested alfalfa or FM for 8 days. During the following 4 days, FM in the cages was replaced with freshly harvested sainfoin. Preference was greater (P<0.05) for FM offered with alfalfa scent than for FM offered with FM scent only on days 4 and 8. When lambs were offered FM with alfalfa or sainfoin in cages, they preferred (P<0.05) tall fescue with sainfoin scent over fescue with alfalfa scent, but intake was variable across hours and days (P<0.001). It is concluded that (1) lambs adjusted their intake of and preference for FA and FM over successive feeding bouts within each day, likely owing to an attempt to balance intakes of nutrients and alkaloids and (2) olfactory cues influenced preference, but to a lesser extent than nutrients and alkaloids in endophyte-infected tall fescue.

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