Strategies to reduce inanition in sheep

Project Code:  W.LIV.0142

Year Published: 2018

Inappetence, the reduction in or lack of appetite with consequent reduced food intake (Blood and Studdert 1999), has been identified as a problem for sheep in the live export process, as a cause of death from inanition, and because of the association with the development of Salmonella outbreaks and subsequent death of animals. The addition of oats over the pellets did not result in any difference in uptake compared to sheep that were fed pellets alone. Spreading of chaff once per day over the pellets did alter the feeding pattern, and the sheep which were provided with chaff visited the feed troughs more often per day, but for shorter visits, than those given only pellets.

Inappetence, the reduction in or lack of appetite with consequent reduced food intake (Blood and Studdert 1999), has been identified as a problem for sheep in the live export process, as a cause of death from inanition, and because of the association with the development of Salmonella outbreaks and subsequent death of animals. To characterise the problem with the typical consignments of sheep currently exported, sheep were monitored at a pre-embarkation feedlot in Western Australia using RFID tags and specially-designed tracking antenna to determine time spent at feed and water troughs. The patterns of attendance at feed and water troughs of 8,206 sheep from four export consignments were monitored for a range of 6 to 31 days. Inappetence was defined as sheep spending less time per day at the feed troughs than 2 standard deviations below the mean for the whole group, 28m 5s, and it took until day six in the feedlot for more than 95% of animals to be spending adequate time at the feed trough. Mortality of the monitored sheep was 0.85%, with enteritis (primarily salmonellosis)/inanition as the main cause of death. Other causes of death included pleuropneumonia and transit tetany. Statistical analyses highlighted difficulty in using feeding times to predict mortality at the feedlot.

A number of feeding strategies considered relatively easy for industry to implement were tested for the potential to increase the acceptance and consumption of a pelletised diet. A further 6048 sheep from 6 consignments were monitored in these tests. Feeding strategies tested at the feedlot did not apparently increase acceptance and consumption of the pellets. Housing sheep outside the raised sheds, with access to hay and/or pellets, for a day before entering the sheds, did not hasten feed acceptance or increase the number spending an acceptable period at the feed troughs, compared to those housed only in the shed. There was an additional risk of exposure to Salmonella in outside environments.

The addition of oats over the pellets did not result in any difference in uptake compared to sheep that were fed pellets alone. Spreading of chaff once per day over the pellets did alter the feeding pattern, and the sheep which were provided with chaff visited the feed troughs more often per day, but for shorter visits, than those given only pellets. In one experiment, provision of chaff did apparently hasten initial attraction to feed, with less sheep in the chaff group classed as inappetent on day 1, compared to those given only pellets.

The on farm provision of trail fed pellets for several preceding days, or the feeding of hay the day before trucking did not increase the time or number of visits at the feedlot feed troughs in the one tested group. Other on-farm factors, along with differences in transport conditions, handling, and prior medical and management practices may be influencing the adaptation to a pelleted diet at the feedlot. Further research is warranted to explore management practices that improve the resilience of sheep to novel conditions and feeds, resulting in consumption of a pellet diet at pre-embarkation feedlots in preparation for shipping.

Keywords: Sheep, On-board/transport, Domestic, Disease, Registered premises, On-farm, Feedlot, Farm, Fodder, Mortalilty, Nutrition, Veterinary, Welfare, Behaviour

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