Title: Taste agents as modulators of the feeding behaviour of grazing yaks in alpine meadows
Authors: Qingshan Fan, Jingfei Ren, Zhouwen Ma, Fujiang Hou*
Impact factor: 3.730
Abstract: Feeding behaviour plays a significant role in promoting good animal health and welfare. It is also reflective of the quality and quantity of available feed. In fact, grazing livestock do not select their feed randomly, rather their behaviour is influenced by the texture, taste, and smell of each pasture species. Although taste agents are often used to modify feed intake for captive livestock, the effect on the feeding behaviour of grazing livestock has not yet been extensively evaluated in native grasslands. To address this gap in knowledge, herein, we sprayed three types of taste agents—salty (SA), sweet (SW), and bitter (BT)—on alpine meadows to investigate their effect on the grazing behaviour of yaks (Bos Grunniens) on the Qinghai-Tibetan Plateau (QTP). Behavioural observations showed that grazing was concentrated primarily in the morning and afternoon, while ruminating/resting peaked at noon; however, the diurnal behavioural patterns of grazing yaks were not affected by the taste agents. Application of the SA agent significantly increased the yaks’ grazing time, bites per minute, bites per step, time per feeding station, and steps per feeding station, while significantly reducing walking time, steps per minute, and number of feeding stations per minute. Meanwhile, application of the SW agent significantly increased the yaks’ time per feeding station, however, significantly reduced the steps per minute and number of feeding stations per minute. In contrast, the BT agent significantly increased the yaks’ walking time, steps per minute, and number of feeding stations per minute, while significantly reducing grazing time, bites per minute, bites per step, and time per feeding station. Application of the SA agent also significantly increased the intake of favoured, edible, and inedible forage, while the SW agent improved inedible forage intake, however, had a more subtle effect on favoured and edible forage intake. Meanwhile, the BT agent had an inhibitory effect on grazing intake. Hence, the structural equation model suggested that taste agents may directly or indirectly influence grazing behaviour by regulating feeding behaviour. Our findings provide a theoretical basis for using taste agents in grasslands to control the grazing behaviour of livestock and provide a method to promote the stability of grassland communities, while mitigating the degradation of grasslands in the QTP.