Learning from Mom

Livestock understand that mother knows best. Learning from mom is efficient. Mom’s a good role model because she has been successful enough at foraging to grow up and reproduce. She knows which plants are nutritious and which are harmful. She passes this information on to her offspring because young animals graze close to their mothers, eating the foods she eats and avoiding the foods she avoids.

Principle: 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. 

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Management implications

Feedlot. Mom can train her offspring to eat foods they will encounter in the feedlot. Young animals will begin eating as soon as they enter the feedlot reducing stress and disease, increasing weight gain and decreasing time spent in the feedlot. See Introducing Animals to New Foods

Winter feeding. Young animals that learn to eat poor quality foods (e.g. ammoniated straw, crop residue or shrubs in winter) by eating with their mothers, 1) eat these foods more readily, 2) perform better, and 3) use poor quality foods more efficiently than animals not exposed to these foods early in life. As adults they will lose less weight, produce more milk and breed back faster when fed poor quality foods. See Training animals to eat unpalatable plants.

Weeds. Mom can train her offspring to eat weeds and other unpalatable plants. Once an animal is trained to eat unpalatable plants, they teach their offspring to eat these plants. See Training animals to eat unpalatable plants.

Habitat. Mom trains her offspring to use specific habitats. Young animals whose mothers use upland sites are more likely to use upland sites and stay away from stream bottoms and wet meadows. Managers can change where animals forage by keeping replacements from mothers that use desirable habitats such as uplands and culling mothers and their offspring that congregate near stream banks or in wet meadows. Managers can also use low stress livestock handling techniques to place and keep animals in areas where they want them to graze. See Changing habitat preference

Fact sheet

Mother knows best