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Short-term foraging dynamics of cattle grazing swards with different canopy structures

Gregorini, P., Gunter, S.A., Beck, P.A., Caldwell, J., Bowman, M.T., Coblentz, W.K.
Journal of animal science 2009 v.87 no.11 pp. 3817
beef cattle, steers, cattle feeding, grazing, Triticum aestivum, wheat, grain crops, forage grasses, forage crops, feeding behavior, foraging, canopy, pastures, feed intake, leaves, stems, height, tillers, bulk density, phenology, digesta, ingestion
The objective of the present experiment was to describe the sward canopy structures of 3 different wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) pastures and relate them to short-term herbage intake rate and foraging dynamics by steers. Pastures were sampled for leaf and stem fractions at the bottom, middle, and top canopy strata. Sward surface heights and tiller and bulk densities were measured. Herbage was separated into stem and leaf, and leaves were then ranked phenologically. Three steers grazed (grazing sessions) 3 different pastures in a Latin square design. Ruminal contents were emptied and weighed before and after grazing sessions to assess herbage intake rate and bite mass. All grazing sessions were video recorded and analyzed for feeding stations (eating steps demarking the potential area of herbage consumption), bites per feeding station, and feeding stations per minute. Bite depth, bite area, and area grazed per feeding station were calculated. Morphological components and tiller density did not differ (P > 0.05) between the pastures, but sward surface height (P < 0.05) and leaf proportions in the middle and top canopy strata did differ. The herbage intake rate, bite mass, and bite area differed between treatments (P < 0.05). Steers grazing the tallest pasture with the greatest leaf accessibility ate faster, navigated slower, and grazed more efficiently (P < 0.05). The area grazed per feeding station differed between treatments (P < 0.05), being 87% for the tallest pasture with the greatest leaf accessibility and the least, 31%, for the pasture with the least leaf accessibility. Pastures with greater leaf accessibility may lead grazing cattle to reach the same herbage intake amount in less time while grazing more efficiently per unit area. Therefore, it may be logical to reduce the area and time allocations in pastures with taller swards where a leafy upper canopy stratum is found.