Introducing Animals to New Foods

Principle: Animals need to learn about new foods. If the consequences of eating a food is positive, they will increase intake of that food. If consequences are negative, animals will eat very little of the food or avoid it all together.

Tips for getting animals to eat news foods:

1. Mom knows best. Introduce young animals with their mothers to the foods they will be required to eat later in life. Animals should be at lease 4 weeks of age at the time of exposure but exposing them just before weaning is also effective. Exposing animals to new foods with their mother for 5 min/day for 5 days produces dramatic increases in intake of those foods (nine times more) later in life. They remember those foods at least 3 years!!! Maybe longer.

2. Take it slow. When introducing animals to new foods that are high in nutrients or toxins, don't force animals on to a sole diet of those foods too quickly. Too much grain causes acidosis. The rumen needs time to adapt to a high grain diet. In the case of foods high in toxins, the liver often needs time to gear up to in order to detoxify the new compounds.

3. First impressions matter. Whether from too much grain or too many toxins if animals get really sick the first time they eat a food, they will likely decrease intake of that food permanently.

4. Gentle persuasion. Animals shouldn't be forced to eat a food but they often will need a little encouragement. Try offering foods early in the morning for a limited time after an overnight fast followed by familiar foods or restrict the amount of familiar food offered.

5. Location, location, location. Animals are more likely to eat a new food if they are in a familiar location.

6. Try to make it familiar. Adding a familiar flavor, such as molasses, to foods sometimes increases acceptance of new foods. Or mix the new food with a familiar food or forage.

7. Use familiar feeders or containers. Make sure animals a familiar with feeders. Feeding a novel food in familiar feeders increases the acceptance of novel foods.

Fact sheets:

  1. Introducing animals to new foods
  2. Learning What to Eat and What to Avoid