Groups of Merino lambs were exposed to wheat at different ages, for different durations, and with or without their mothers, in two experiments. Acceptance of wheat was tested during the week following weaning.
In experiment 1 the mothers had never eaten wheat; all but one group were exposed without their mothers. Lambs showed more interest in wheat at 1 to 2 weeks of age than at any other age. The only group in which there was good acceptance of wheat during testing was the group which was exposed with their mothers. The latter had been given wheat for the first time in the week prior to the lamb's exposure. The average intake of this group in 2.5 h of testing (0.5 h per day for 5 days) was 290 g per head.
In experiment 2, groups of lambs, together with their mothers who were experienced in eating wheat, had uncontrolled access to wheat trailed on the ground for different periods within the first 4 weeks after birth. Lambs in one group had access to wheat for 1 to 5 days following birth.
All lambs in experiment 2 ate wheat during testing and there were no differences in either intake or feeding times between groups. Mean intake of all groups during the 5 day test period was 810 g per head.
The results demonstrate the importance of early experience and in particular maternal influences in determining the subsequent acceptance of a wheat supplement by lambs. The results also raise questions concerning not only the nature, but also the extent of maternal influences on dietary selection.