Preference of Beef Cattle for Feedlot or Pasture Environments

Caroline Lee Jim Lea Ian Colditz Andrew Fisher and Drewe Ferguson CSIRO - "Meat & Livestock Australia "

Type: Research Paper
Knowledge level: Advanced

Farm Table says:

This research article looks at the preference of beef cattle for feedlot or pasture environments. This learning was organize examine cattle perception of the feedlot environment.

What is the problem?

There is a public perception that animal welfare is reduced under intensive animal farming systems compared with extensive or free-range systems. Many animal interest groups hold strong positions against intensive systems where animals are confined and use this as the focus of campaigns.

The target of this activity was:

*To produce intention, science-based information on the motivation of cattle to access feedlot or pasture environments, utilizing the accepted method of Y-maze testing.

What did the research involve?

• Ethical approval of animal experimentation
-The protocol and conduct of this experiment was approved by The CSIRO Chiswick Animal Ethics Committee under the NSW Animal Research Act, 1985.

• Animals and facilities
– The experiment was conducted at Armidale NSW, Australia in summer from September 2012 until May 2013.

• Feedlot ration
– The feed provided in the feedlot was a starter feedlot ration (Ridley Agriproducts, Victoria, Australia; 89% DM, 12% protein, 1.0% crude fat, 0.65% Ca, 9.5 MJ/kg).

• Habituation and training
-They were then trained in a Ymaze to learn the direction of the feedlot and pasture environments.

• Stage 1: Y-maze testing with a feed reward following 7 days feedlot confinement
-Following training, all cattle in group 1 were fitted with IceTags (IceRobotics, Midlothian. They were then confined to the feedlot environment for 7 days. Following this, cattle were tested in the Y-maze.

• Stage 2: Y-maze testing with a feed reward following 4 weeks feedlot confinement
-They were then tested in the Y-maze twice daily (at 08:30h and 16:00h) for 5 consecutive days from the same Y-maze they were tested in previously.

• Stage 3: Y-maze testing with a feed reward from alternate maze
-Next, cattle were trained from the opposite Y-maze to learn the new direction of the feedlot and pasture environments on one day with 10 forced choice trials (alternating between feedlot and pasture) for each animal.

• Stage 4: Y-maze testing without a feed reward and from alternating mazes
-As the previous testing coincided with feed ration being placed in the feed troughs in the feedlot, further testing was conducted whilst removing the associated feeding reward by testing at a time when feeding did not occur (once per day at 12:00h).

• Pasture
-Pasture samples were collected from the paddock using a quadrant during habituation to pasture and at the start of testing each group.

• Climatic condition
-Daily temperature and rainfall were recorded from a portable weather station (Vaisala WXT520, Hawthorn, VIC, Australia) and the feedlot pad was scored.

• Data analysis
– Preference for choosing the feedlot was tested by comparing the observed choice (as a mean for each group) to random chance (50%).

What were the key findings?

• Results

  • Stage 1: Y-maze testing with a feed reward following 7 days feedlot confinement
    -The choice for the feedlot is shown in Figure 7. Day of testing significantly influenced preference for the feedlot (P=0.029) with cattle showing a preference for the feedlot on days 3 to 10 of testing.
  • Stage 2: Y-maze testing with a feed reward following 4 weeks feedlot confinement
    -There was no influence of group, time of day and day. There was no relationship found between any of the weather variables and choice for the feedlot.
  • Stage 3: Y-maze testing with a feed reward from the alternate maze
    -There was no significant influence of day, group or time of day on feedlot preference. Weather conditions did not influence feedlot preference during testing.
  • Stage 4: Y-maze testing without a feed reward and from alternating mazes
    -On day 1 and days 5 to 10 preference for the feedlot did not differ from the 50% chance level.

• Discussion

  • Stage 1: Y-maze testing with a feed reward following 7 days feedlot confinement
    -This study assessed cattle choice for a feedlot or pasture environment when there was a cost imposed on their decision. Cattle showed a preference for the feedlot environment following two separate periods of confinement (7 days and 4 weeks).
  • Stage 2: Y-maze testing with a feed reward following 4 weeks feedlot confinement
    -As discussed in 4.2.1. Cattle had a strong preference for the feedlot following 4 weeks confinement in the feedlot.
  •  Stage 3: Y-maze testing with a feed reward from alternate maze
    -To test for the influence of the location pattern development in the cattle, we retested them from the alternative maze following retraining to enable learning of the new directions of the feedlot and pasture.
  • Stage 4: Y-maze testing without a feed reward and from alternating mazes
    -To test for the influence of the feed reward and remove patterns of side biases, cattle were tested once per day at 12:00h and from daily alternating mazes.
  • The use of the Y-maze to test motivation for the feedlot
    -This is the first time that Y-maze methodology has been used to assess preference for feedlots.
    Development of this methodology and set up of the facility enables further questions relevant to cattle welfare in feedlots to be addressed.

Final comment

The contemporary learning indicated that cattle showed a preference for the feedlot when testing coincided with feeding and that they were willing to pay the cost of their choice, by being unable to access the pasture environment.

2014 - Australia - Caroline Lee Jim Lea Ian Colditz Andrew Fisher and Drewe Ferguson CSIRO - "Meat & Livestock Australia "
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