May 19, 2006 - Scientists have known for a long time that sheep seek out foods to gather the nutrients they need. A trial by Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Research Organization (CSIRO) now has researchers thinking that sheep might be able to self-medicate, eating particular plants to remedy various ailments.
The project aims to identify the range of plants ? particularly those not used for grazing ? which can help sick sheep recover.
The sheep in the trial were being exposed to different plants, such as shrubs and other perennials, rather than grazing on paddocks containing a single crop and grasses. Researchers then monitor the animals' eating patterns, determining whether sheep infected with parasites pick particular plants and whether their health improves as a result.
If sheep can self-medicate, researchers expect to be able to suggest changes to farm-management practices which will improve animal-welfare outcomes while reducing the need for artificial medication.