Understanding what determines feeding behaviour in herbivores is essential to optimise the use of forages in breeding systems. Herbivores can evaluate foods by associative learning of their pre-ingestive characteristics (taste, odour, etc.) and their post-ingestive consequences. Post-ingestive consequences are acknowledged as influencing intake and food choices, but the role of pre-ingestive characteristics is still being debated. Our experiment was designed to test their separate effects on daily dry matter intake (DMI), intake patterns and short-term choices in sheep by crossing the nature of the hay orally consumed (o) ad libitum, lucerne (L) or grass (G), with the nature of the hay introduced into the rumen (r), L or G, at a rate of half the total amount of hay received the day before. We applied four treatments, Go/Gr, Go/Lr, Lo/Gr and Lo/Lr, to test the effects of (i) post-ingestive consequences with similar pre-ingestive characteristics (Go/Gr v. Go/Lr; Lo/Gr v. Lo/Lr) and (ii) pre-ingestive characteristics with similar post-ingestive consequences at the end of the feeding period (Go/Lr v. Lo/Gr). Six rumen-fistulated sheep underwent all the treatments over 11-day periods in a latin square design. Eating time was restricted to 6 h/day, intraruminal introductions were performed just before food offer and choice tests were conducted after food removal. For similar pre-ingestive characteristics, DMI increased when L hay was introduced into the rumen rather than G (P < 0.05), possibly owing to a lower fill effect of L due to its lower NDF content and higher rumen degradability. The increased DMI resulted from longer eating time when G was orally consumed (149 v. 192 min, P < 0.05), whereas it resulted from higher intake rate with L (4.8 v. 6.1 g/min, P < 0.05). For similar post-ingestive consequences at the end of the feeding period (Go/Lr and Lo/Gr), DMI were similar (P > 0.05). Pre-ingestive characteristics or palatability per se did not therefore influence daily intake, although they influenced eating patterns. Pre-ingestive characteristics also greatly influenced short-term choices in favour of the hay that was not previously consumed, independently of any post-ingestive influence. This study confirms the effects of post-ingestive consequences on daily intake, but demonstrates that these variations are obtained by different behavioural adjustments under the influence of pre-ingestive characteristics. Preference for novelty, regardless of post-ingestive consequences, thus suggests that sheep may seek a diverse diet more for pleasure than for functional purposes, with implications for animal welfare.