Cattle diet selection during the hot-dry season in a semi-arid region of Namibia
The northern Kalahari Desert is dominated by Terminalia sericea savanna woodland and a sparse herbaceous layer. Range ecologists regard T. sericea as a major encroaching species and that such encroachment represents a cost to cattle production. In contrast, pastoralists regard this woody species as an important component of cattle diet, particularly during the hot-dry season or during drought. In this study, free-ranging cattle were observed during the peak of the pre-rain flushing period of deciduous plants during the hot-dry seasons of 2001 and 2002. Diet preference was evaluated by taking into account the proportion of diet consumed relative to its availability on the range. Diet preference was compared to diet quality. Cattle spent 71% of time feeding on browse during the hot-dry season. Terminalia sericea, Bauhinia petersiana and Philenoptera nelsii contributed 74.5% to browse consumption. Philenoptera nelsii was the most preferred browse. Generally, cattle preferred browse with high crude protein and phosphorus content but avoided browse with high fibre content. This study confirmed the long-term observations by local pastoralists that woody species contribute significantly to cattle diet during the hot-dry season in the northern Kalahari. We recommend that rehabilitation of encroached rangelands should take into account the role of browse in semi-arid environments. Copyright © NISC Pty Ltd.