Sustainable outdoor pig production requires vegetation that can maintain ground cover, assimilate manure nutrients, and prevent soil erosion. Two experiments were conducted to evaluate the suitability of four forages: alfalfa (Medicago sativa), tall fescue (Festuca arundinacea), white clover (Trifolium repens), and buffalograss (Buchloe dactyloides) for grazing or ground cover in pastures for pigs. Each forage plot covered 7.5 m2, with nine replicates in a randomized block design. In Exp. 1, eight pregnant gilts had free access to all forages during a 2-d adjustment period. Immediately thereafter, pairs of gilts were assigned randomly to one of each of four blocks of the four forages during a 2-d measurement period. The percentage of ground cover for each forage was visually estimated at 0, 24, and 48 h of study. Behavioral data, including walking, eating, grazing, rooting, drinking, standing, lying, and time spent in hut were video-monitored continuously for 48 h. Initial percentage of ground cover was 100% for all species. By 48 h, percentage of ground cover decreased (P < 0.001) for white clover (11.3 ± 0.88%) and alfalfa (36.3 ± 0.88%), but not for tall fescue (98.0 ± 0.88%) or buffalograss (98.0 ± 0.88%). Gilts spent more (P < 0.01) time grazing white clover (16.3 ± 1.97 min/d) and alfalfa (11.2 ± 1.97) than tall fescue (0.8 ± 1.97) or buffalograss (0.3 ± 1.97), and rooted more (P < 0.04) white clover than other forages. In Exp. 2, six gilts from the initial group were put on six blocks of the four forages. Each gilt was assigned randomly to three replicates of each forage, including alfalfa, tall fescue, or buffalograss (white clover was excluded because of damage by gilts during Exp. 1), and gilts grazed single forages for 2 d. After this grazing period, the percentage of ground cover was less (P < 0.01) for alfalfa than for buffalograss or tall fescue (37.5 ± 0.38, 96.7 ± 0.39, 96.3 ± 0.39%, respectively). With access to a single forage, pregnant gilts spent more (P < 0.01) time grazing alfalfa (15.8 ± 2.36 min/d) than buffalograss (1.5 ± 2.36) or tall fescue (0.7 ± 2.37). These gilts clearly preferred grazing white clover and alfalfa, and rooting and eating white clover compared with buffalograss or tall fescue. Rates of ground cover loss were less (P < 0.01) for tall fescue and buffalograss than for the more preferred forages. Less preferred forages could have potential as pasture for swine when the primary objective is ground cover maintenance rather than nutrient supply.
- Ground Cover