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Differences in choice of diet between sheep breeds grazing mountain pastures in Norway

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In the present study, the foraging behaviour of ewes from three common Norwegian sheep breeds; the long-tailed Dala sheep, and the two short-tailed breeds Spæl sheep and Norwegian Fur sheep was studied. Based on difference in body size and digestive anatomy, we expected the lighter short-tailed ewes to browse more on woody plants than the Dala ewes. The experiments were conducted during two consecutive summers within the flocks' usual grazing areas, and we sampled the proportion of grazing time that ewes spent feeding on woody plant species. We tested the hypothesis by applying generalized linear mixed models to the feeding behaviour data. As predicted, the short-tailed ewes spent substantially more of their grazing time browsing on trees, bushes and heather compared to the Dala ewes. We discuss the results in the context of maintaining the, now threatened, pastoral landscapes of mountainous regions of Norway; short-tailed breeds should be more effective than the Dala breed in reducing tree and bush encroachment, but more detailed studies are needed to quantify the breed differences in this respect.

Keywords: Dala; Norwegian Fur sheep; Spæl; rangeland pastures; woody plant encroachment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: Department of Animal and Aquacultural Sciences, Agricultural University of Norway, Ås, Norway 2: Sustainable Ecosystems Program, CSIRO - Davies Lab, PMB PO Aitkenvale, Queensland, 4814, Australia

Publication date: 2005-05-01

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