Supplementary feeding with pelleted feed, grain, hay, or silage is common in many sheep-grazing systems. Frequently, when sheep consume a supplement, they reduce their pasture intake. The degree of this substitution may even be enough to negate the effects of the supplement. Substitution is likely to be greater when: 1) more pasture is available; 2) pasture quality is higher; 3) higher quality supplements are fed; 4) more supplement is fed; and 5) animals have a lower demand for nutrients.
Under certain circumstances, supplements can also increase forage intake if they provide a nutrient that was hitherto limiting pasture intake. For example, in sheep grazing low-quality forage (e.g., dry summer pasture) the low soluble-N content of the forage may constrain rumen fiber digestion and thus, intake. The provision of a supplement containing soluble N can overcome this constraint, so that the rate of digestion of fiber increases, the rumen empties faster, and the animal can eat more of the low-quality forage. This is referred to as complementation. It should be noted that once the supplement has met the rumen requirement for soluble N, it is likely that higher levels of supplementation will result in increasing substitution.
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