Main content area

Adaptation behaviour of local and rangeland cattle relocated to a temperate agricultural pasture

Thomas, D. T., Wilmot, M. G., Kelly, R. W., Revell, D. K.
Animal production science 2011 v.51 no.12 pp. 1088-1097
animal growth, average daily gain, beef cattle, heifers, markets, pastures, rangelands, weight gain, zebu, Western Australia
Relocating cattle from rangeland properties to agricultural pastures in southern Western Australia allows producers to improve year-round continuity of feed supply in their beef cattle businesses, and can reduce substantially the time taken to grow animals to meet market specifications. In this study the behaviour and growth of two groups of young cattle that were sourced from different locations was evaluated after they were transferred to a new extensive grazing system. In Experiment 1, 122 Limousin-cross heifers that were raised in the agricultural region of Western Australia (AR cattle) were transferred to the experimental site from a neighbouring property (~10 km away). In Experiment 2, 95 Brahman-cross heifers that were raised in the rangelands of Western Australia (RR cattle) were transferred to the experimental site. Animal growth and behaviour were analysed across time and differences in the time-course of behavioural changes between the groups were compared. Rate of liveweight gain in the AR cattle remained consistent (~1.2 kg/day) during the experiment. There was an increase in horizontal (16%; P < 0.001) and vertical (12%; P = 0.002) head movement in AR cattle over the first several weeks after relocation, indicative of increased grazing activity, but there was little change in other behaviours over the duration of the experiment. In contrast, the RR cattle had reduced growth during the first 4 weeks after relocation (P < 0.001). From weeks 2–4 weight gain in RR cattle was 0.31 kg/day, approximately one-quarter of their average daily gain attained 4 weeks later. During the first 6 weeks, RR cattle showed behavioural changes indicative of adaptation, including a 61% increase in horizontal head movements, suggesting more grazing activity. The paddock area utilised daily by RR cattle was 32% higher in week 6 compared with week 1, and during daylight hours (0600–1900 hours) they began to travel more (23%) and spent more time active (16%). We conclude that rangeland-raised Bos indicus heifers take from 4 to 6 weeks to adapt from their previous large paddocks/natural plant environment to a new temperate agricultural environment. Our results suggest that the cause of lost productivity in rangeland cattle when they are relocated to a temperate pasture is at least in part due to initial lower grazing activity as they become familiar with the new environment.