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Nutrient intake is an important factor that determines the performance of production animals. In free ranging animals, direct measurement of nutrient intake is difficult to conduct, and it is frequently estimated indirectly by the aid of markers. The aim of this thesis was to investigate the potential of using cuticular n-alkanes and their carbon isotope enrichments (δ13C) as markers to study the nutritional ecology of grazing animals under tropical conditions. In addition, this improved method was used to determine the seasonal patterns of nutrient intake and diet composition of grazing cattle in the Mid Rift Valley grasslands of Ethiopia. The first focus of the thesis was to quantify the interspecies variability in the n-alkane profile and δ13C values of alkanes among commonly available pasture species in the Mid Rift Valley of Ethiopia. The analysis showed that the variability is sufficiently large to allow n-alkane and their δ13C values to be used as diet composition markers, with a combined use of the two increasing the discriminatory power. Faecal recovery of dosed and natural alkanes in cattle consuming low-quality tropical roughages was investigated in an indoor balance study. The recovery of synthetic alkanes dosed in the form of molasses boluses was considerably higher than adjacent natural odd-chain alkanes, and correction appears necessary when intake is estimated with the double n-alkane method. The next focus of the thesis was to generate information on the nutritive value of pasture species and nutritional status of grazing cattle in the region. Large variability was observed in the nutritive value and methane production potential of pasture species as evaluated in vitro, with scope for selection of genotypes with high nutritive value and low methane production potential for a sustainable pastureland management. The nutritional status of grazing cattle measured using a combination of n-alkanes, their δ13C values and visual observations showed that diet composition and nutrient intake of the animals is highly dependent on rainfall patterns, with a cyclic positive (wet period) and negative (dry period) energy and nutrient balance observed over the grazing seasons. Energy intake was more limiting than crude protein for body weight gain in most of the grazing seasons. While mature and non-producing animals appeared to tolerate nutritional restriction in the dry period and regain lost body condition in the following wet periods, young animals before the age of puberty may need supplementary feeding. Furthermore, concentrate supplementation of finishing animals needs to coincide with the onset of the wet season to take advantage of compensatory growth. In conclusion, the n-alkanes method coupled with isotope enrichment in n-alkanes and visual observations as used in the present study can provide realistic nutritional data for free-ranging cattle which correlates well with changes in body conditions.
|Qualification||Doctor of Philosophy|
|Award date||8 Feb 2013|
|Place of Publication||S.l.|
|Publication status||Published - 2013|
- nutrient intake
- food composition
- nutritive value
- animal nutrition
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