ARTICLE | doi:10.20944/preprints202205.0394.v1
Subject: Life Sciences, Other Keywords: animal growth performance; carcass traits; economic returns; Nguni cattle heifers; spineless cactus diets
Online: 30 May 2022 (11:17:32 CEST)
In an attempt to improve free-range beef cattle herds and explore the economic viability of utilizing Opuntia ficus-indica (spineless cactus) cladodes as supplementary feed, we investigated the impact of cactus diets on animal growth performance and carcass characteristics of Nguni cattle heifers. Four dietary treatments were randomly assigned to 32 heifers aged 24-months, weighing on average 172.2±27.1 kg, with each dietary treatment replicated to 8 individually penned heifers for 90 days. The dietary treatments were control diet (pasture-based energy + protein sources), 10% cactus diet, 20% cactus diet and commercial diet (crop-based energy and commercial protein source). The heifers fed commercial and control diets attained significantly (P < 0.05) higher dry matter intake, average daily gains, fat thickness, carcass conformation scores and lower feed conversion ratio than those fed cactus diets. However, the final body weight gains, slaughter and carcass weights, rib-eye muscle area and meat pH45 min and 24h were comparable (P > 0.05) between heifers fed cactus diets and those fed commercial and control diets. The 10 and 20% cactus diets had greater gross margins (P < 0.05) of R278.6 and R296.9, respectively than the other diets, due largely to reduced total variable costs. The comparability of carcass traits of heifers fed cactus diets and those fed non-cactus diets as well as higher economic returns from cactus inclusion warrants the use of cactus diets, particularly during drought when commercial feed prices rise.