Lamb performance, behavior, and body temperatures in hardwood silvopasture systems

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Virginia Tech

Trees in silvopastures may provide forage-livestock systems with multiple goods and services, including shade, shelter, and browse. Reports of forage and animal productivity from these systems indicate that, in some cases, animal gains are similar or better despite lower forage yield. The relationship between grazing system, body temperature, grazing behavior, and animal performance was explored in this study. Black walnut and honeylocust-based silvopasture systems were compared with open pastures in a randomized complete block design (r = 3) over three summers. Pastures were rotationally stocked with 5-7 lambs depending on forage availability. Lambs were weighed every four weeks. Behavior measures were recorded within a replicate within a week, and these measures were taken sequentially within three experimental periods. Ewe lambs (n = 3) were equipped with a vaginal temperature sensor (3 days) and an audio recording device (1 day) to detect prehension events. Cameras documented lamb behavior every 60 seconds. Forage measurements taken with a rising plate meter indicated greater productivity in the honeylocust silvopasture (5020 ± 30 kg · ha⁻¹ ) compared to the open pasture (4930 ± 30 kg · ha⁻¹ ; P = 0.0281), though forage availability in the black walnut silvopastures (3560 ± 30 kg · ha⁻¹ ) was lower than within the other treatments (P < 0.0001). There was no difference in animal gains between systems (P ≥ 0.4813), though gains were highest in the honeylocust silvopastures (25.6 ± 3.4 kg · period⁻¹ ), followed by the gains of the black walnut silvopastures (22.3 ± 3.4 kg · period⁻¹ ), and the gains of the open pastures (22.2 ± 3.4 kg · period- 1 ). Lambs in silvopastures spent more time lying down than animals in the open pastures (P ≤ 0.01), while lambs in the open spent more than two hours longer each day standing (P < 0.0001). During the hottest part of the day, ewes in the open pasture were 0.4 °C hotter than ewes in the black walnut silvopastures (P ≤ 0.0202). Lambs in the black walnut silvopastures grazed more (488 ± 14 minutes · day⁻¹ ) than lambs in the honeylocust silvopastures (438 ± 15 minutes · day⁻¹ ; P = 0.0192) and the open pastures (417 ± 14 minutes · day⁻¹ ; P = 0.0009), with no difference between the latter two systems (P = 0.3073). There was no difference in daily bites taken (P ≥ 0.7222), though lambs in the silvopastures grazed more frequently than lambs in the open pastures.

In one six week winter grazing study, animal performance in the honeylocust silvopastures was compared with the productivity of lambs grazing the open pastures and the black walnut silvopastures. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of these pods on lamb growth when animals grazed stockpiled tall fescue (Schedonorus arundinaceus). Preand post-graze forage mass was estimated with a double sampling technique using a rising plate meter. Treatment pastures were rotationally stocked with three (walnut) or six lambs per experimental unit depending on forage availability. Fescue grab samples were collected every other rotation. Crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), acid detergent fiber (ADF), and total digestible nutrients (TDN) were estimated with a robust equation using NIR spectroscopy. Pre- and post-graze pod mass per hectare was estimated using randomly placed quadrats. Lambs were naïve to pods and did not readily consume the fodder until four weeks into the trial, and the methods for estimating pod intake were not sufficient to detect pod differences in pre- and post-graze pod mass. Forage availability in the honeylocust silvopastures (5130 ± 90 kg · ha⁻¹ ) and open pastures (5050 ± 90 kg · ha⁻¹ ; P=0.7580) was greater (P < 0.0001) than forage availability in the black walnut silvopastures (3790 ± 90 kg · ha⁻¹ ). Treatment had no effect (P = 0.3763) on average daily gains across the six weeks of the study. However, lambs within the honeylocust silvopastures had greater (P = 0.0251) average daily gains in the final period (0.12 ± 0.02 kg · day⁻¹ ) than lambs within the open pastures (0 ± 0.02 kg · day⁻¹ ), and lambs were observed consuming the pods. These data suggest that honeylocust pods may support greater gains of lambs, but that previous exposure and longer study periods in pasture settings may be necessary to see their nutritional benefit when grazing high quality forages.

Agroforestry, Silvopasture, Lamb, Sheep, Shade, Behavior