Low-Intensity, High-Frequency Grazing Positively Affects Defoliating Behavior, Nutrient Intake and Blood Indicators of Nutrition and Stress in Sheep

Front Vet Sci. 2021 Jun 22;8:631820. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.631820. eCollection 2021.

Abstract

The intensity and frequency of grazing affect the defoliating strategy of ruminants, their daily nutrient intake, thus nutrition and physiological status. Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum Lam.) pastures were grazed by sheep either under a low-intensity/high-frequency grazing strategy (Rotatinuous stocking; RN) with nominal pre- and post-grazing sward heights of 18 and 11 cm, respectively, or under a high-intensity/low-frequency strategy (traditional rotational stocking; RT) with nominal pre- and post-grazing sward heights of 25 and 5 cm, respectively. Treatments were arranged under a complete randomized design and evaluated over two periods, in different years. In 2017, the aim was to depict the type of bites that sheep perform during the grazing-down and associate them to the grazing management strategy according to their relative contribution to the diet ingested. In 2018 we estimated the total nutrient intake and evaluated blood indicators of the nutritional status and immune response to stress of sheep. The bite types accounting the most for the diet ingested by RN sheep were those performed on the "top stratum" of plants with around 20, 15, and 25 cm, whereas the type of bites accounting the most for the diet of RT sheep were those performed on "grazed plants" with around 10, 5, and ≤ 3 cm. In 2018, the RN sheep increased by 18% the total organic matter (OM) intake and by 20-25% the intake of soluble nutrients (i.e., crude protein, total soluble sugars, crude fat), digestible OM and of metabolizable energy, and had 17.5, 18, and 6.1% greater blood concentration of glucose, urea nitrogen (BUN) and albumin, respectively, but 17% lower blood neutrophil-to-lymphocyte (N:L) ratio. Sheep grazing vegetative Italian ryegrass pastures under the low-intensity/high-frequency grazing strategy (RN) ingested a diet of better quality from bites allocated on the top stratum of plants, had greater intake of soluble nutrients and blood parameters positively associated with nutritional status and immune response to stress.

Keywords: animal welfare; grazing management models; ingestive comfort; nutritional status; sward height.