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Beef feedlot cattle use individual feeding strategies to gain access to feed in a competitive environment Zobel, Gosia

Abstract

Cattle are social animals and frequently interact with other members of their social group, especially when access to food is limited. Despite considerable interest in the social behavior of cattle, no research has focused on assessing the relationship between competition and the feeding behavior of individual feedlot cattle housed in small groups. Forty-five British crossbred feedlot heifers (520.5 ± 32 kg BW) were used to determine how successful competitive interactions impacted an individual's ability to consume and gain access to feed in a competitive feeding environment. Heifers were randomly assigned to 3 pens of 15 animals. Pens were fitted with two radio frequency equipped feed tubs that monitored individual dry matter intake and bunk attendance duration. Cattle were fed a total mixed ration once daily consisting of barley silage, concentrate and mineral supplement at 0900, 1200 and 1500 and had ad libitum access to both feed and water. All competitive interactions at and around the feed tubs were monitored continuously from 0900 to 2200 on three separate days. Animals were considered successful if they either gained access to feed, or if they were already eating, they maintained their position. There was a positive relationship between the number of successful interactions displayed and dry matter intake (R² = 0.26, P = 0.0003), bunk attendance duration, (R² 0.45, P < 0.0001) and bunk attendance frequency (R² = 0.49, P < 0.0001). The strength of these relationships varied dramatically throughout the day and was strongest in the first hour after feed delivery between 0900 and 1000. Large variation between individuals suggests that different animals develop individual feeding strategies in competitive environments. Animals used competition, varied eating rate, and shifted feeding times to access feed. Although this study suggests that the success of an animal in competitive interactions at the feedbunk plays a role in its ability to access and consume feed, individual behavioral differences also play a significant role.

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