Research note: Seasonal influence on diet selection of sheep grazing a weedy dryland lucerne pasture
The experiment was conducted to determine the seasonal effects on the availability, chemical composition and digestibility of a grazing dry-land lucerne pasture, as measured on samples either collected by hand or with oesophageally fistulated (OF) sheep. The pasture was monitored monthly for a period of thirteen months. An overall mean amount of 647 kg DM ha-1 of material was monitored during the experimental period. Lucerne, as a percentage of the total DM availability was relatively low (approximately 19%), probably due to the preference of sheep to select lucerne in spite of the other available material. Both the crude protein (CP) content and the organic matter (OM) digestibility of the samples showed a seasonal tendency with higher values during the winter and lower values during the summer. Mean OM, CP, organic matter digestibility (OMD), acid detergent fibre (ADF) and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) contents of 91.7%, 10.7%, 57.5%, 47.1% and 74.0%, respectively, were obtained with hand-clipped samples, while the corresponding composition of samples collected by OF sheep was 83.1%, 21.0%, 64.7%, 38.2% and 58.4%, respectively. The sheep were able to select forage samples with a higher CP content than those collected by hand throughout the year. This was, however, not the case with the organic matter digestibility of the samples during the growing season July to October. The CP content of fistula extrusion samples (f) could be predicted from hand-clipped samples (h) from the linear relationship. CPf = 10.51 + 0.97CPh (r = 0.59). The study provided figures on the chemical composition and digestibility of dryland lucerne pasture at grazing in a Mediterranean environment.