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Dernière mise à jour : Mai 2018

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Food harvesting by small ruminants foraging on rangeland and woodland undergrowth

INRA Prod. Anim., 10(5), 391-401.

M. MEURET

INRA Département SAD Unité d’Ecodéveloppement, Domaine Saint-Paul, Site Agroparc, 84914 Avignon cedex 9

 

Abstract 

When fed on rangelands small ruminants develop an opportunistic feeding behaviour enabling them to make the most of heterogeneous and greatly variable resources. Their narrow jaws enable them to select food particles from the mix of green tissue and dead plant matter. They also develop adapted harvesting behaviour like ’stripping’ lateral leaves off the plant stems by vertical traction. For their part, plants may respond to browsing by morphological changes. European rangelands combining rough open grazingland and woodland undergrowth generally offer well developed tree and shrub foliage as well as creepers, an asset for very fast intake. By harvesting a large mass of material at each ingestive bite (approx. from 0.4 to 1.4 g dry matter) small ruminants are able to make time for discriminating between food materials while at the same time maintaining during their meal an intake rate higher than that observed on swards with a grass height of 20 to 30 cm (about 0.5 g DM/min/kg LW0.75). On some rangelands consisting chiefly of small-leafed foliage and thorny shrubs, prehension is however limited and intake is twice as slow. In woodland undergrowth, the tridimensional arrangement of feeding materials enables the animals to attack them from different angles and to progressively push up the browsing height as the lower layers are being defoliated. The animals are able to limit variations in the leaf to stem ratio in their daily intake through such adjustments. During the grazing circuit, the animals string together a succession of harvesting sites where the ’linear ingested mass’ is high (gram intake per metre travelled) alternating with episodes when they explore the surroundings and diversify their meals. Rapid intake on certain sites gives the animals time to prospect the area and also to ruminate foods that contains sometimes poorly digestible fibers. In order that animal husbandry practices can profit from such heterogeneous areas, the animals need to be fed on pastures combining sites of fast intake with intermediate areas permitting circulation and meal diversification.

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