Self-medication on pasture
Self-medication on pasture refers to the behavior of ruminants in consuming plants that may have a beneficial effect on their health (bioactives). The secondary metabolites they ingest can have prophylactic or curative properties. The breeders’ practices of developing high-density sown grasslands that include specific species encourage self-medication. Although scientific knowledge of the associated practices is still limited, they are now finding an increasingly important place in ongoing research. In grazing systems, they can be used as alternative treatments for livestock diseases.
The ingestion by ruminants of medicinal plants present in pastures plays a positive role in animal well-being and health. For example, it has been shown that, at sufficient levels, grazing by ruminants of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia Scop.), which is rich in condensed tannins, and chicory (Cichorium intybus L.), whose leaves are rich in sesquiterpene lactones, helps in combating internal gastrointestinal parasites and prevent cases of bloating. However, before adopting this practice, the farmer has to acquire specific skills in grassland management and in the learning processes within the herd that encourage the ingestion of these plants. This practice does not exclude the rational use of conventional medicinal inputs.
Establishing this type of grassland helps to preserve the soil (agrobiodiversity), optimize the farm’s technical and economic performance (reduced veterinary and cultivation costs), and improve animal health and well-being (reduced use of medicinal inputs). Finally, this practice can be seen as a lever for the agroecological transition of livestock systems, contributing to integrated management of animal health and, in a more global vision, to the “One Health” principle.
References to explore
Villalba J.J.; Provenza F. D. 2007. Self-medication and homeostatic behavior in herbivores: learning about the benefits of nature’s pharmacy. Animal 1: 9, pp 1360-1370. DOI 10.1017/S1751731107000134