The ability of magnetic field sensors to monitor feeding in three domestic herbivores

Christina C. Mulvenna, Rory P. Wilson, Nikki J. Marks, Aaron G. Maule, David M. Scantlebury

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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The rate at which animals ingest food is a fundamental part of animal ecology although it is rarely quantified, with recently-developed animal-attached tags providing a potentially viable approach. However, to date, these methods lack clarity in differentiating various eating behaviours, such as ‘chewing’ from ‘biting’. The aims of this study were to examine the use of inter-mandibular angle sensors (IMASENs), to quantify grazing behaviour in herbivores including cattle (Bos taurus), sheep (Ovis aries) and pygmy goats (Capra aegagrus hircus) eating different foodstuffs. Specifically, we aimed to: (1) quantify jaw movements of each species and determine differences between biting and chewing; (2) assess whether different food types can be discerned from jaw movements; and (3) determine whether species-specific differences in jaw movements can be detected. Subjects were filmed while consuming concentrate, hay, grass and browse to allow comparison of observed and IMASEN-recorded jaw movements. This study shows that IMASENs can accurately detect jaw movements of feeding herbivores, and, based on the rate of jaw movements, can classify biting (taking new material into the mouth) from chewing (masticating material already in the mouth). The biting behaviours associated with concentrate pellets could be identified easily as these occurred at the fastest rate for all species. However, the rates of chewing different food items were more difficult to discern from one another. Comparison of chew:bite ratios of the various food types eaten by each species showed no differences. Species differences could be identified using bite and chew rates. Cattle consistently displayed slower bite and chew rates to sheep and pygmy goats when feeding, while sheep and pygmy goats showed similar bite and chew rates when feeding on concentrate pellets. Species-specific differences in chew:bite ratios were not identified. Magnetometry has the potential to record quantitative aspects of foraging such as the feeding duration, food handling time and food type. This is of major importance for researchers interested in both captive (e.g., agricultural productivity) and wild animal foraging dynamics as it can provide quantitative data with minimal observer interference.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages21
Publication statusPublished - 13 Sep 2018

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