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Forage choice in pasturelands: Influence on cattle foraging behavior and performance

J. J. Villalba, R. Cabassu, S. A. Gunter
Journal of animal science 2015 v.93 no.4 pp. 1729-1740
Festuca arundinacea, Onobrychis viciifolia, alfalfa, animal behavior, animal performance, beef cattle, biomass, blood, calcium, calves, calving, diet, feces composition, forage, foraging, grazing, incidence, magnesium, pastures, species diversity, urea nitrogen, zinc
We determined if combinations of adjacent pastures of 3 forage species led to complementary relationships that influenced animal behavior and performance over monocultures. Grazing bouts, behavioral levels of activity, blood urea N (BUN), chemical composition of feces, BW, and herbage biomass before and after grazing were monitored when beef calves strip-grazed 3 replications of 4 treatments from June 14 through August 23, 2013 (9 animals/treatment). Animals grazed monocultures of: 1) tall fescue (TF), 2) alfalfa (ALF), 3) sainfoin (SAN), or 4) a choice of strips of forages TF, ALF, and SAN (CHOICE). The lowest and greatest incidence of foraging bouts occurred for cattle in CHOICE and SAN, respectively (P < 0.01). Animals in CHOICE grazed SAN > ALF > TF (P < 0.01). Animals on TF and CHOICE took greater number of steps than animals grazing a monocultures of either legume (P = 0.01). Calves in TF had lower BUN (P < 0.01) and fecal CP concentration (P < 0.01) than calves grazing the remaining treatments, whereas animals in SAN showed the greatest concentrations of fecal CP (P < 0.01). Fecal NDF concentration was the greatest for animals grazing TF and the lowest for animals grazing SAN (P < 0.01), whereas fecal ADF concentration was greater for animals grazing TF and SAN than for animals grazing CHOICE and ALF (P = 0.02). Calcium, Mg, and Zn concentrations were the lowest in feces from calves grazing TF and the greatest for calves grazing a monoculture of either legume (P < 0.05). When averaging both periods, animals grazing SAN, ALF, or CHOICE gained more BW than animals grazing TF (P < 0.01). Thus, calves in CHOICE incorporated tall fescue into their diets, were more active, and displayed a lower number of grazing bouts than calves grazing monoculture of either legume. Herbage diversity may lead to levels of ADG comparable to legume monocultures with the potential benefit of maintaining plant species diversity in pasturelands.