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Supplementation of ruminants on winter pastures

Supplementation of ruminants on winter pastures

Characterization of breed-specific additive and heterosis effects on beef sensory and leather quality traits

Industry Sector: Cattle and Small Stock

Research focus area: Livestock production with global competitiveness

Research Institute: Department of Animal and Wildlife Science, Faculty: Natural and Agricultural Sciences, University of Pretoria
Researcher: Prof Willem A. Van Niekerk PhD

Research Team: Prof Lourens J. Erasmus PhD

Final report approved: 13 September 2016

Aims of the project

  • To develop a cost-effective supplementation strategy for ruminants under low quality winter forage conditions.
  • To maintain body weight during the winter season by assessing different sources and levels of nutrients that enhances poor quality roughage utilization. 
  • To investigate intake, fiber degradation and microbial protein production when various types and levels of nutrients are supplemented to ruminants kept at maintenance under extensive conditions.

Executive Summary

Enhancing poor quality roughage utilization through supplementation and subsequent improvement in extensive ruminant production in South Africa.

A series of studies was conducted to evaluate differential energy and nitrogen (N) sources as supplemental feed to sheep grazing low quality winter grazing in the High veldt. Knowledge on supplementation under local conditions are limiting, since the majority of supplementation studies are funded and performed in the more temperate areas.

Results indicated that higher N and energy inclusion levels are necessary to optimize ruminant production under local conditions compared to temperate areas. In addition, the ratio of fermentable energy to available protein is an important parameter in optimizing supplementation programs. It is concluded that the supplementary recommendations from the current feeding tables does not describe the requirements and nutrient quality of the tropical grasses satisfactorily and as such, cannot be used to predict supplementation responses by the tropical forage fed ruminant. 

Additional comments

One of the main aims of the project was to address the question whether the current supplementation requirements tables on sheep grazing low quality subtropical grazing during the winter months in the High veldt of Southern Africa is adequately described to optimize animal production.

The research conducted clearly showed that it is not the case as there are firstly fundamental differences in the type of grasses found here in the High veldt compared to the grasses used to comply the majority of the tables. As such, the responses observed in supplementation of these grasses differ significantly, with different levels of nutrients needed within the supplements needed to optimize ruminant production under typical High veldt conditions.

The results obtained from this research undoubtedly will aid the commercial farmer and feed industry in formulating more relevant supplementation programs specifically for the High Veldt area during the dry winter months which might increase ruminant production.

Please contact the Primary Researcher if you need a copy of the comprehensive report of this project –
Willem van Niekerk on