Effects of grazing management systems (GS) on biomass production and nutritional quality of rangeland vegetation in semiarid regions are extensively studied; however, limited information is available regarding their effects on diet digestibility and feed intake of grazing livestock. We therefore analyzed digestibility of ingested organic matter (dOM), organic matter intake (OMI), and live weight gain (LWG) of sheep in a grazing experiment established in the Inner Mongolian steppe of China, where two GS were tested for six different grazing intensities (GI) from very light to heavy grazing. For the continuous grazing system, sheep grazed the same plots each year, and for the alternating system, grazing and hay making were alternated annually between two adjacent plots. In July, August, and September 2009 and 2010, feed intake and live weight of sheep were determined. The GS did not affect dOM (P = 0.101), OMI (P = 0.381), and LWG of sheep (P = 0.701). Across both GS LWG decreased from 98 g · d−1 for GI1 to 62 g · d−1 for GI6 (P < 0.001; R2 = 0.42). There were no interactions between GS and GI for all measured parameters (P ≥ 0.061), indicating that alternating grazing did not compensate for negative effects of heavy grazing even after 4 yr of grassland use. In summary, our study showed that irrespective of GI, alternating grassland use does not improve dOM, OMI, and hence, LWG of sheep. However, it might enhance revenues and ecological sustainability in the long term when compared to the common practice of continuous grazing at very high stocking rates.
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Vol. 67 • No. 2