Grass Hay and Acacia Fruits: A Local Feeding System for Improved Calf Performance in Semi-Arid Ethiopia

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Tropical Animal Health and Production

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A 90-day growth trial was designed to compare the performance of calves on 3 dry-season diets composed of local resources from the Borana pastoral system. The control group received the traditional diet of cut-and-carry, standing-brown grass while the other diets consisted of grass hay stored since the previous wet season with or without Acacia tortilis fruits as a protein supplement. All calves had access to water once every 3 days as traditional. The objective was to see whether modest changes in traditional feeding management could enhance nutrient intake and growth of calves under conditions of restricted water access. The hay had a higher nitrogen content and in vitro digestibility than the standing grass, and the Acacia fruits had higher nutrient concentrations than the hay (both at P < or = 0.05). Calves on hay plus Acacia fruits had higher nitrogen intakes than those on hay only, and those on hay only had higher nitrogen intakes than those on standing grass (both at P < or = 0.05). Calves on standing grass lost weight and condition, those on hay only maintained weight but lost condition, and those on hay plus Acacia fruits gained weight and maintained condition (all at P < or = 0.05). Calves consumed the most feed on day 2 of the watering cycle, regardless of treatment. Water intake increased 27% for animals on both hay diets compared to those on standing grass (P < or = 0.01). Feeding packages based on hay making and collection of browse legumes are appropriate options for extension to these semi-settled pastoralists.

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