The Effect of Grazing Intensity and Sward Heterogeneity on the Movement Behavior of Suckler Cows on Semi-natural Grassland

Fecha de publicación: 12/04/2021
Fuente: PubMed "smart farming"
Front Vet Sci. 2021 Mar 26;8:639096. doi: 10.3389/fvets.2021.639096. eCollection 2021.ABSTRACTExtensively grazed semi-natural grasslands contribute to a wide range of ecosystem services, including the preservation of biodiversity and provision of livestock feed. Depending on the grazing intensity, cattle are set in motion to fulfill their nutritional needs. In this way, they influence the vegetation composition, while at the same time the foraging behavior is affected by the vegetation. A better understanding of the relationship between grazing intensity and animal behavior is an essential component for strategies to improve the value of semi-natural grasslands and for gaining insights for the development of smart farming technologies. The long-term cattle grazing experiment "FORBIOBEN" with its replicated three paddock-scale (1 ha) grazing intensities [moderate (M), lenient (L), very lenient (VL)] was used to investigate the movement behavior of suckler cows during four grazing periods between 2017 and 2020. For this, pregnant suckler cows (Fleckvieh) were equipped with Vectronics GPS Plus (VECTRONIC Aerospace GmbH, Berlin) collars, which recorded the position of the animals at defined time intervals. The main outcomes were that with an increase in the grazing intensity, the herbage on offer declined and, consequently the herbage allowance. However, the spatial heterogeneity of the herbage on offer decreased with increasing grazing intensity (M < VL) which means that the amount of available herbage was lower but more evenly distributed under moderate grazing. Further, there was a tendency that the moderate grazing intensity was associated with the highest effort of walking compared to lenient and very lenient grazing in three out of four grazing periods. We found a strong (p < 0.001) negative correlation among walking distance vs. herbage variability across all treatments × periods. Consequently, the grazing intensity itself was not a good predictor of walking distances which were mainly a result of the available herbage, its distribution or heterogeneity. Future smart farming livestock management systems will, therefore, likely require interfaces with the grassland growth rates and heterogeneity benchmarks if decisions based on livestock movement should be reliable.PMID:33842577 | PMC:PMC8032882 | DOI:10.3389/fvets.2021.639096