Crop and Pasture Science Crop and Pasture Science Society
Plant sciences, sustainable farming systems and food quality

The determinants of herbage intake by grazing sheep: The interrelationship of factors influencing herbage intake and availability

WG Allden and IA McDWhittaker

Australian Journal of Agricultural Research 21(5) 755 - 766
Published: 1970


The interrelationship of characters of the pasture (herbage yield, height of sward) and of the animal (size of animal, rate of intake, rate of biting, size of bite, and time spent grazing) which influence the consumption of herbage by the grazing sheep was examined in three short-term experiments. In one study the high correlation usually observed between herbage yield per unit of land area and plant height was disturbed by manipulating the spatial relations of the sward; it was observed that the rate of intake of pasture by grazing animals was closely associated with plant height (estimated from tiller length) there being little relation between herbage yield and intake. Size of bite increased almost linearly with changing tiller length, whereas after a small initial increase the rate of biting decreased. These differences produced a sevenfold change in the rate of herbage consumption between sheep grazing pastures of 3.7 cm tiller length (1.0 g dry matter/min) and 7.7 cm (7.1 g/min). At greater tiller lengths the size of bite and rate of biting varied inversely to maintain a constant rate of intake. When accessibility of herbage imposed limitations on the rate at which the animal was able to prehend its feed, it was shown that the sheep was able partially to compensate for the reduced amount of herbage present by an increase in grazing time (from 6 to 13 hr/day). However, as the animal extended its period of grazing the compensation became progressively more incomplete. Under sparse pasture conditions lambs were able to consume feed at a significantly greater rate than yearlings but as pasture availability increased the situation was reversed. The role of short-term grazing studies in relation to problems of grazing management is discussed.

© CSIRO 1970

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