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Interpretive Summary: Varied diets: implications for lamb performance, rumen characteristics, total antioxidant status, and welfare 

By: Dr. Emily Taylor

In today’s production settings, ruminants are provided monotonous feeding environments that do not allow the animals to make feed choices. These situations may impair animal performance and welfare. The objective of the current study was to provide a varied diet of fresh forages (perennial ryegrass, plantain, alfalfa, and chicory) over the day. The Authors hypothesized improved intake, performance, and welfare of lambs would be observed compared to lambs on a diet lacking in variety (alfalfa). Lambs were offered a diversity of forages free choice all day, a varied diet in the AM and PM, or a single forage. 

Researchers found that temporal management of diverse diets can improve performance relative to animals given free choice diversity at all times. Differences in eating, ruminating, idling, lying, and standing was observed, suggesting an enhancement in animal welfare when feeding a diverse or varied diet. While there may be advantages in a varied diet compared to the repetitive presentation of free choice diversity, the exact mechanism for this increased performance requires further evaluation. Authors suggest that it is more than just the primary chemical composition of the diet consumed, but rather how the diet is presented through time and the forage species and quantity of each species consumed. 

Further research is needed with greater animal numbers to strengthen these results. In addition, exploring different forage combinations, sequences of patterns, and diurnal fluctuations in forage compositions also may enhance performance.

This article is available in the Journal of Animal Science.