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Using livestock behavior to your advantage

Save money, time, and benefit the land using livestock behavior principles

Cows in sagebrush in Colorado's western slope

Photo by M & R Glasgow available on Flickr with a CC BY 2.0 license. Photo was cropped to fit page.

The BEHAVE research and outreach program synthesizing years of research into livestock behavior principles. By understanding and manipulating why livestock behave as they do, managers can use livestock’s natural inclinations to accomplish land management goals, like, managing for weeds, enhancing biodiversity, minimizing the use of riparian areas, reducing the need for expensive feed, and much more.

More available on the BEHAVE site, including information on:

The Principles of Behavior 

Collaborators include, Fred Provenza, Juan Villalba, Beth Burritt, Roger Banner, Mark Brunson, Andrea Clemensen,  Ashley Hansen, Rae Ann Hart, Tiffanny Lyman, Brody Maughan, and Chuck Petersen.

Behavior Depends On Consequences

Positive consequences increases the likelihood of an animal repeating a behavior and negative consequences decreases the likelihood of an animal repeating a behavior. Positive consequences have fewer negative side effects.

Mother Knows Best

An animal’s mother has the greatest influence on the foods an animal chooses to eat and where it chooses to live. Once trained, animals will pass new behaviors on to their offspring automatically.

Early Experiences Matter Most

The behavior of animals changes throughout their lives based on experience. Animals are more likely to try new things, including foods, early in life. Experience can change the an animal’s physiology, neurology, the structure of its body even gene expression.

Animals Must Learn How to Forage

Believe it or not animals actually have to learn how to eat. Young animals acquire foraging skills more quickly early in life than older animals.

Animals Avoid Unfamiliar Foods

Animals don’t like to eat new foods. Eating new foods is risky because they may be toxic. As long as animals have plenty of familiar, nutritious foods to eat, they generally avoid eating new foods.

Palatability Depends on Feedback from Nutrients and Toxins in Food

When an animal eats a food, it is digested releasing nutrients and toxins. These compounds are absorbed and travel to the cells and organs of the body. Signals are then sent back to the brain to tell it how well a food meets the animal’s nutritional needs. The brain then pairs the food’s flavor with it’s benefits, toxicity or lack of benefits to the body.

  • Nutrients Increase Palatability

    Animals learn to eat foods that are nutritious and avoid foods that are low in nutrients. Their bodies tell them which foods are which based on feedback from the gut.

  • Toxins Decrease Palatability

    Animals learn to avoid foods that are toxic. Their bodies tell them which foods are harmful based on feedback from the gut.

  • Changes in Food Preferences are Automatic

    Think animals can’t be this smart? Changes in palatability occur automatically due to feedback. Animals don’t need to think about or remember feedback from the food. Even when animals are asleep, feedback still changes palatability.

  • Toxins Set a Limit on Intake

    In most cases, animals only eat small quantities of plants that contain toxins because toxins in plants set a limit on intake. Most toxins do not cause death or obvious sign of illness instead they keep animals from overeating any one plant.

Variety is the Spice of Life

Providing animals with a variety of foods on pastures, rangelands and in feedlots allows them to avoid toxins and balance diets to meet their own unique needs for nutrients.

Everybody is an Individual

Individuals within a species vary widely in their ability to tolerate toxins and their need for nutrients.

Learn more at the BEHAVE website

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