Mother Knows Best – Why Your Livestock Eat What They Do

A young animal learns what kind of things it should eat and do from its mother and its herd or "social group."  This explains how animals of the same species can survive in extremely different environments. For example, a calf reared in the sage-covered deserts of southern Utah and one raised on grass in the bayous of Lousiana have completely different diets and habits. We all know that young animals learn from their mothers, but we may not realize how important, strong, and long-lasting her influence is. For young creatures, paying attention to mother is crucial for learning where and where not to go and what and what not to eat. Through interactions with mother, young animals learn about the whereabouts of water, shade, cover, and the kinds and locations of nutritious and toxic foods.  Here's a demonstration done at Utah State University by the BEHAVE group that shows how strong that influence is. You'll see that when a mother avoids harmful foods and selects nutritious alternatives, her offspring will do the same. As offspring begin to forage, they learn quickly to eat foods mother eats, and they remember those foods for years. As an example of this here's a little test done by scientists. The graph at the below shows the results of three different groups of lambs offered wheat at 3 months and then again when they were 3 years old.  At three months old, the first group did not see wheat, the second group was given wheat in a pen al

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2 thoughts on “Mother Knows Best – Why Your Livestock Eat What They Do

  1. Kathy,
    I was wondering if there has been anything published about the effectiveness of using Bud Williams’ Proper Stockmanship methods for receiving new animals into a feedlot? I know this type of research is difficult to perform because you have to have someone who is skilled at his methods and would need a commercial feedlot to participate. But if the stories he told are true about being able to get new animals to eat whatever ration the owner provided after working with the animals for a short period of time and sometimes less than an hour, it probably would be worth the time and effort to learn and use his methods just based on the increase in animal performance.

    1. Hi Patrick,
      I’m sure that stress can reduce the likelihood of an animal eating. Here’s an article I did awhile back about that: How does stress spread through your herd? It’s the Pee!. I’m not aware of research into what you mention specifically. Research done by Fred Provenza and his colleagues at Utah State University indicates that trying something new in a familiar environment, like the feed they will encounter in their next home, is a really easy way to make sure they transition well. I used that method for all kinds of animal moves.

      I’ll see what else I can find.



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