Five sheep were fitted with rumen cannulas and fed once daily ad libitumat 09.00 h with a low-quality mixed-grass hay or a good-quality lucerne hay. The effects of a second amount of the same hay or of the second hay distributed at the end of the large meal following the morning distribution, when rumen fill reaches its daily maximum, were investigated for feed intake, alimentary behaviour and rumen fill. The second distribution induced a true meal (200–400 g dry matter intake), except in the case of mixed grass offered after lucerne. On the basis of initial eating rate and the amount ingested, the highest palatability was for lucerne offered after mixed grass, and the lowest for mixed grass offered after lucerne. Diet selection was more pronounced with lucerne than with mixed grass, as indicated by the larger decrease in the neutral detergent fibre content of the fraction ingested. The true meals following the second distribution were associated with an increase in rumen fill up to 10% of the daily maximum observed without the second distribution. However, rumen fill with lucerne remained 1 kg lower than with mixed-grass hay, even after a second meal. It is concluded that the sensory response induced by a distribution of a sufficiently palatable hay is able to override the satiety signals due to rumen fill, and that there is a permanent balance between the stimuli related to the characteristics of the food available and those related to reticulo-ruminal digesta.