Mineral status of reproducing ewes grazing vegetative cereal crops

David G. Masters, Serina Hancock, Gordon Refshauge, Susan Robertson, Marie Bhanugopan, Michael Friend, Andrew N. Thompson

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18 Citations (Scopus)


Grazing vegetative wheat, barley and oats (both dual-purpose and traditional spring varieties) is becoming an important strategic and tactical grazing option on farms where crops and livestock co-exist. The high winter growth rates of the crops offer an opportunity to fill the winter feed gap and the high nutritive value (metabolisable energy and crude protein) makes them well suited to meet the requirements of reproducing ewes. However, metabolic disorders have been reported and many producers avoid grazing these crops with reproducing ewes because of the risk. The present study aimed to establish the mineral status of both forage and of reproducing ewes grazing wheat, oats or barley. On each of 18 farms, a group of 50 pregnant ewes was monitored. The farms were located in Western Australia (6 farms) southern New South Wales (7 farms) and central New South Wales (5 farms). The average start of grazing was 118 days (range 97–133 days) after the start of mating. Crops grazed were wheat (8 farms), barley (4 farms) or oats (6 farms) and the average period of grazing was 20 days (range 14–24 days). Samples of blood and urine were collected pre- and post-grazing from 11 to 17 ewes and samples of crop and soils were also collected for mineral analysis. A high proportion of farms had forage calcium (Ca, 70%), sodium (Na, 70%) and magnesium (Mg, 18%) below published requirements and potassium (K, 70%) above the published maximum tolerable level. Strong negative correlations were found between soil Colwell K and forage Ca, Mg and Na. Analysis of samples collected from the ewes at the end of the grazing period indicated that ewes on 94% of farms had alkaline urine and on 88% of farms Ca concentrations in the urine were in the marginal range. None of the flock-average Ca concentrations in plasma was in the deficient range, but 59% of the flocks contained some individual ewes with plasma Ca in the deficient range. A small proportion of flock-average concentrations of Mg (6%) and Na (18%) in plasma were in the deficient range. In conclusion, the forages had a complex mineral composition meaning that grazing ewes may have an increased risk of direct or induced Ca (hypocalcaemia) or Mg (hypomagnesaemia) deficiency. The low Na and high K concentrations of these crops may also pose a direct risk to livestock production. Preliminary analysis indicated higher risks from grazing wheat and from grazing crops grown on high-K soils.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to) 2049-2060
Number of pages12
JournalAnimal Production Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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