Automated feeding of sheep. 1. Changes in feeding behaviour in response to restricted and ad libitum feeding

Behrendt, R.; Muir, S. K.; Moniruzzaman, M.; Kearney, G.; Knight, M. I.

Animal Production Science 61(3): 246-255


ISSN/ISBN: 1836-0939
Accession: 071049500

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Context. Automated feeding units allow the recording of individual feeding behaviour of group-housed sheep and provide data for research into feed efficiency. Aim. It was hypothesised that measures of feeding behaviour such as the number of non-feeding events, meal size, eating rate and meal duration would change under different levels of feeding. Method Maternal Composite ewes (n= 126, 18 per pen) were fed a hay-based pellet using automated feeding units (2 per pen) for four periods differing in total daily feed allowance (kg/day) and meal allowance (g/meal). Sheep were initially fedad libitum(meal allowance similar to 1000 g) for 19 days during an adaptation period, before restricted feeding for 41 days at daily allowances of 40%, 60%, 80%, 100%, 140% and 180% of estimated maintenance requirements, with a meal allowance of similar to 100 g. These restricted daily allowances were the experimental treatments that were randomly applied to sheep and replicated three times per pen. The daily allowance was then adjusted to 1.4 kg/day (with a similar to 200 g meal allowance) for all sheep over 5 days, beforead libitumfeeding of all sheep for a period of 16 days. All feeding and non-feeding events were recorded. Key results. Under restricted feeding, sheep altered the timing of their meals to consume more meals during the early morning after daily allowances were reset at 0000 hours. This change was more pronounced for sheep fed a smaller proportion of maintenance. The number of non-feeding events (similar to 8/day) was not affected by the level of restricted feeding, but meal size was smaller, meal duration was longer and eating rate was lower for sheep fed 40% of their maintenance requirement. Underad libitumfeeding, sheep reverted to a preferred meal size and number of meals, with fewer than two non-feeding events per day, but differences in eating rate remained. Conclusions. Sheep feeding behaviours adapt and respond quickly to changes in daily allowance and offered meal size, but the similar number of non-feeding events at different proportions of maintenance feeding suggest that non-feeding events may not reflect levels of hunger. Implications. Our observations suggest that sheep are capable of learning and adapting to different levels of feeding and that this may allow for automated feeding systems to supplementary feed larger numbers of sheep under extensive situations.