Submitted to: Journal of Range Management
Publication Type: Peer reviewed journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 3/1/1997
Publication Date: N/A
Citation: Interpretive Summary: Grazing animals select food that vary in palatability and nutrient quality from a variety of plant species arrayed across a complex landscape. There is a need to understand the relationship of food quality and distribution to forage intake by these free roaming animals to develop improved approaches to grazing management. A study was conducted in an 8-arm radial maze to determine if cattle could associate food quality with spatial locations. We also attempted to determine if grazing animals could retain this information over extended time periods. Results indicate that yearling steers have a degree of spatial memory and can associate food sources of different quality with a particular location. This association, however, declined significantly over time indicating that the animals soon forgot where the more nutritious food sources were located. This loss of memory caused the grazing animals to naturally reevaluate areas where low quality forage sources were located. This reassessment can be beneficial if forage quality improves over time.
Technical Abstract: Twelve yearling steers were trained and observed in an 8-arm radial maze to determine the association of food quality to spatial locations and if a 0- or 30-day delay would affect the strength of that association. In phase 1, all 8 arms contained moderate quality dehydrated alfalfa pellets. In phase 2, steers were fed either a high quality grain mix, or a low quality wheat straw, in each of 2 selected key arms. The low quality food was placed in those two key arms that had been selected first during phase 1, and the high quality food was placed in the 2 arms selected last in phase 1. The remaining 6 arms contained moderate quality food. Phase 3 started after a 0- or 30-day delay from the end of phase 2, and all arms contained the moderate quality food. Steers performed above chance levels in phase 1 indicating an accurate spatial memory. The sequence of arm selections in phase 2 changed (P<0.05) from the pattern established in phase 1, demonstrating that cattle can associate food quality with spatial locations. The delay between phase 2 and 3 did not affect the selection patterns of steers (P>0.10) that had high quality food in key arms. For steers receiving low quality food, the delay interval appeared to affect the number and sequence of arm entries. With a 0-day delay, steers did not enter key arms on the fist day of phase 3. Steers entered and consumed food in key arms after a 30-day delay. This suggests that strength of the association between food quality and spatial locations can decline over time.