How Animals Choose What to Eat

Editors Note: This is Part 4 in Darrell's series on understanding our animals so that we can do the best job of managing our pastures. Here are links to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3. Here's where we left off last time:  Animals follow the "Law of Least Effort" when it comes to finding food. They won't hang out for long where there is little or no food, where the foods found in a location do not meet their particular nutritional requirements, or the foods are too difficult to handle. Thus, the food an herbivore selects is determined not only by the nutrient content of the food, but also the costs involved in handling and processing the food, and by the food’s abundance. However, the foraging behavior of pasture predators such as “Happy” the horse, “Lily” the lamb and “Harriet” the holstein is a complex and dynamic process, and while no predator, in the long term, can disregard the “Law of Least Effort,” there are some short term exceptions. Let's take a look. Animals Have to Learn What to Eat Foraging behavior and diet selection are primarily learned behaviors. Thus, young animals have to learn what to eat, when, and where. Animals that are moved into or in some other way find themselves in unfamiliar locations must also learn the lay of the land as well as evaluate the foods that are available. And sometimes animals become ill and can be found to eat plants that are not overly nutritious or abundant, but have medicinal value. Pasture predators such

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