Behavioral Education for Human, Animal, Vegetation, and Ecosystem Management (BEHAVE)
 

Title

Influence of Free-Choice vs Mixed-Ration Diets on Food Intake and Performance of Fattening Calves

Document Type

Article

Journal/Book Title/Conference

Journal of Animal Science

Volume

79

Issue

12

Publisher

American Society of Animal Science

Publication Date

2001

First Page

3034

Last Page

3040

Abstract

Research findings and management recommendations typically emphasize responses of the "average" individual, yet more than half of the animals in a group may differ significantly from the mean regarding food preference and intake. The productivity of a herd may be adversely affected if animals differing from the mean are fed a uniform diet formulated to meet the needs of the "average" individual. We compared the intake and performance of beef calves offered a choice or no choice among foods. Diets consisted of ad libitum access to either a chopped, mixed ration of rolled barley (31.3%), rolled corn (31.3%), corn silage (15.5%), and alfalfa hay (18.9%) (n = 16 calves) or a choice among those foods offered individually (n = 15 calves). Averaged across the 63-d trial, the two groups did not differ in ratios of protein to energy ingested (43 vs 43 g CP/Mcal ME; P = 0.50), but preference for foods high in energy or protein varied markedly for animals fed free-choice: on d 21 they had protein:energy ratios higher than those of animals fed the mixed ration, on d 2 the ratios were equal, and on d 40 they had protein:energy ratios lower than those of animals fed the mixed ration. Throughout the trial, no two animals consistently chose the same ingredients, and none selected a diet similar to the nutritionally balanced mixed ration, yet each animal ate a diet adequate to meet its needs. Animals offered the mixed ration tended to eat more than animals offered a choice (109 vs 102 g/kg MBW/d; P = 0.10), but they did not gain at a faster rate (0.89 vs 0.92 kg/d; P = 0.65). Gain/unit of food consumed also was similar for both groups (0.09 vs 0.10 kg/kg; P = 0.38). However, food cost/day was higher for animals fed the mixed ration than for those offered a choice ($1.58 vs $1.36; P = 0.03). Consequently, cost/kilograms of gain was higher for the mixed ration than for the choice group ($1.84 vs $1.49/kg; P = 0.045). These findings suggest that 1) animals can more efficiently meet their individual needs for macronutrients when offered a choice among dietary ingredients than when constrained to a single diet, even if it is nutritionally balanced; 2) transient food aversions compound the inefficiency of a single mixed diet by depressing intake even among animals suited to that nutritional profile; and 3) alternative feeding practices may allow producers to efficiently capitalize on the agency of animals, thus reducing illness and improving performance.

Comments

Originally published by American Society of Animal Science.

Publisher's PDF and abstract available through remote link.