A study was instigated to test whether grazing herbivores have evolved effective strategies to reduce parasite ingestion and to assess the effects of parasitism on these strategies. Two choice trials, each using five animals parasitized with O. circumcincta and five parasite naïve animals, were conducted to investigate cues used by sheep to avoid grazing swards contaminated with faeces. Animals were presented with pairs of artificial swards (36 × 21 cm) and allowed to graze for short periods. In the first trial, four quantities (0 g, 5 g, 15 g and 25 g), and in the second trial a control (no faeces) and three age classes (0, 10 and 21 days old), of faeces were tested against each other. Increasing amount of faeces per sward tray was associated with a reduced proportion of bites taken from the sward and reduced bite depth and mass. The minimum amount of faeces at which sheep showed significant levels of rejection was 15 g. Decreasing age of faeces was associated with a reduced proportion of bites taken from the sward, reduced bite depth and mass. This presented the paradox that grazing swards contaminated with young faeces presented least risk of parasitism, yet fresh faeces presented the strongest stimulus for sward rejection. Parasitism altered animal grazing behaviour with parasitized animals becoming more selective when avoiding contaminated swards, taking smaller bites at reduced bite rates compared with non-infected animals. The enhancement of faeces avoidance behaviours shown by parasitized animals could act to reduce further intake of parasites and suggests that grazing behaviour is affected by nematode infection.
- Ostertagia circumcincta
- Selective grazing