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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Australian perennial shrub species add value to the feed base of grazing livestock in low- to medium-rainfall zones

D. K. Revell A B C E , H. C. Norman A B , P. E. Vercoe B C , N. Phillips A B , A. Toovey A B , S. Bickell C , E. Hulm A , S. Hughes B D and J. Emms B D
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship and Division of Animal, Food and Health Sciences, Private Bag 5, Wembley, WA 6913, Australia.

B Future Farm Industries Co-operative Research Centre.

C School of Animal Biology, The University of Western Australia, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia.

D South Australian Research and Development Institute, Waite Campus, Urrbrae, SA 5064, Australia.

E Corresponding author. Email: dean.revell@csiro.au

Animal Production Science 53(11) 1221-1230 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN13238
Submitted: 3 July 2013  Accepted: 26 August 2013   Published: 17 September 2013

Abstract

Australian native perennial shrubs that are adapted to drought and infertile soils contribute nutrients to grazing systems that would otherwise support limited ruminant productivity. In this study, we report the nutritive value of 39 Australian shrub species of the genera Atriplex, Rhagodia, Maireana, Chenopodium, Enchylaena, Acacia, Eremophila, and Kennedia. Edible foliage was sampled in winter and summer, and there was little difference in nutritive value between seasons. The in vitro organic matter digestibility of most shrub species was 40–70%. Most species contained medium to high levels of crude protein (12–22% of dry matter, DM) and high concentrations of sulfur (2–8 g/kg DM). In an 8-week grazing experiment in which Merino wethers grazed a ‘shrub system’ containing four shrub species and a sown inter-row of annual pasture, the sheep gained weight during autumn without supplementary feeding. By comparison, sheep fed senesced volunteer pasture and supplementary cereal grain only maintained weight. The forage shrubs provided up to 50% of the total DM intake of sheep grazing the ‘shrub system’ and made a modest contribution to the digestible energy intake of the animals and a large contribution to their crude protein and mineral intake. Considering the timely and predictable provision of limiting nutrients and benefits such as gut health and the provision of shade and shelter, we suggest that Australian shrub species can make a valuable addition to the feed base of low- to medium-rainfall zones in southern Australia.


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