Assessing the quality of forage for livestock in a semi-arid pastoral system in South Africa
This study evaluated the nutritional quality of the forage plants in Namaqualand Granite Renosterveld vegetation in the Kamiesberg uplands of the Leliefontein communal area, South Africa. Determining the quality of forages is one of the most important factors necessary for the effective management of rangelands as it impacts on the nutrient needs of animals and consequently, the grazing capacity in rangelands. The edible portions of various forage plants were collected in the wet and dry seasons in 2012 and 2013 after which the nutritional quality (mineral nutrient content; crude protein (CP); fibre, neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and acid detergent fibre (ADF); dry matter digestibility (DMD); dry matter intake (DMI); metabolizeable energy (ME); and relative forage value (RFV)) as well as the anti-nutritional quality (total phenolics (TP); condensed tannins (CT); and silicon (Si) concentrations) of the plants were determined. Plants were thereafter grouped into their respective growth forms: grasses (15 species), herbs (15 species), leaf succulents (17 species), non-succulents (134 species), reeds (7 species), trees (8 species) and stem succulents (2 species) for statistical analyses. There were generally only a few significant differences for each forage growth form, when comparing the nutritional and anti-nutritional qualities between the two seasons. Certain forage types such as leaf succulents were found to have a high nutritional value in terms of their mineral nutrient content, CP, DMD and ME , but were also found to contain high concentrations of one or more anti-nutritional factors. However, within each season, results showed that for both the nutritional quality and anti-nutritional quality, there was a significant difference between the different growth forms within each season. This suggests that both of these quality parameters are essential in order to draw meaningful conclusions regarding forage quality of these semi-arid rangeland plants. Further research is needed at the species level to determine what plant species are the most nutritious in terms of both nutritional and anti-nutritional quality in order to inform the potential production of these species on a commercial scale.