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


Intake of Lambs Offered Ad Libitum Access to One of Three Iso-Caloric and Iso-Nitrogenous Mixed Rations or a Choice of All Three Foods

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Livestock Science







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Modern practices for finishing livestock typically involve offering a single uniform food to large groups of presumably similar animals in an attempt to increase efficiency. Nevertheless, differences in physiology and behavior still cause variations in performance that may precipitate biological inefficiencies by not appreciating the importance of differences among individuals, the capacity of animals to select foods that meet ever-changing individual needs, and the dynamic nature of a nutrient's value to an animal. We examined intakes of groups of lambs offered a single food or three foods differing only in their proportions of cereal grains: High, 70%; Medium, 50%; Low, 40%. Foods consisted of the same ingredients (barley, corn, sugar beet pulp, alfalfa, soybean meal, grape pomace, feather meal, wheat straw), had similar levels of metabolizable energy (ME) and crude protein (CP), and met NRC requirements. We hypothesized that intake and performance would be greater when animals had a choice of foods because high grain concentrations would not limit intake of individuals unable to process high amounts of energy from grain. In general, lambs offered a Choice of the three foods ate more, converted food more efficiently, and cost less per unit gain than lambs fed the High food (P<0.05). Animals fed the Low or Medium foods were intermediate in their responses between these two extremes. Within Choice, preference for High, Medium, and Low shifted from the beginning (21 d) to the finishing (21 d) periods of the trial. Though lambs in the Choice treatment preferred Low>Medium and High in the beginning stage of the trial, their preferences became pronounced as we increased the amount of grain in each food during the finishing period (P<0.05). Collectively, our findings suggest improved intake, rate of gain, and feed efficiency can result when animals are allowed to select their diets from biochemically complementary foods, possibly enabling them to realize greater benefits than typically thought from inexpensive forages. In addition, offering animals choices is an alternative to feeding uniform diets of rapidly fermented energy, a major cause of illness in feedlots.


Originally published by Elsevier.

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