Suitable Browse Species for Small Ruminants: Growth Pattern and Animal Preference
Browse species supplement diet, increase diet variety, and expand grazing opportunity for small ruminants. However, information on the foliage-development pattern of browse species and appropriate time to begin harvesting/browsing with small ruminants is lacking. Study objectives were to 1) determine the growth pattern of browse species available in grazing lands, and 2) evaluate small ruminants’ preference for these species. Browse species present in woodland (2.8 ha) and browse-research (5.2 ha) sites were identified and tagged in early-winter, 2019. The date when the first leaf-sprout occurred was recorded, and the canopy-development data taken fortnightly after the first sprout until the full canopy was attained. Eight Kiko wethers and five Katahdin rams were co-stocked rotationally in three woodland plots (0.4 ha each) from mid-May to mid-October 2019. The extent of defoliation (0-5: 0 - no defoliation, 5 - 80-100% defoliation) of browse species by animals was assessed. Canopy-development data were analyzed using the GLM procedure and plant-preference data with Mixed procedure in SAS 9.4. Nine species began sprouting in early February, seven by mid-March, and three by late April. Species varied in attaining the full canopy ranging from April 21 to May 21. Animals showed high preference for eight species, moderate preference for nine, and least preference for 11. Results show that browse foliage can be ready for harvest beginning late April to mid-May depending on the browse species. Moderate to highly preferred species can be used to develop browse program or manage these species with small ruminants if present in woodlands.