Determining suitable dimensions for dairy goat feeding places by evaluating body posture and feeding reach
ABSTRACT Confined goats spend a substantial part of the day feeding. A poorly designed feeding place increases the risk of feeding in nonphysiological body postures, and even injury. Scientifically validated information on suitable dimensions of feeding places for loose-housed goats is almost absent from the literature. The aim of the present study was, therefore, to determine feeding place dimensions that would allow goats to feed in a species-appropriate, relaxed body posture. A total of 27 goats with a height at the withers of 62 to 80 cm were included in the study. Goats were tested individually in an experimental feeding stall that allowed the height difference between the feed table, the standing area of the forelegs, and a feeding area step (difference in height between forelegs and hind legs) to be varied. The goats accessed the feed table via a palisade feeding barrier. The feed table was equipped with recesses at varying distances to the feeding barrier (5–55 cm in 5-cm steps) at angles of 30°, 60°, 90°, 120°, or 150° (feeding angle), which were filled with the goats' preferred food. In 18 trials, balanced for order across animals, each animal underwent all possible combinations of feeding area step (3 levels: 0, 10, and 20 cm) and of difference in height between feed table and standing area of forelegs (6 levels: 0, 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 cm). The minimum and maximum reach at which the animals could reach feed on the table with a relaxed body posture was determined for each combination. Statistical analysis was performed using mixed-effects models. The animals were able to feed with a relaxed posture when the feed table was at least 10 cm higher than the standing height of the goats' forelegs. Larger goats achieved smaller minimum reaches and minimum reach increased if the goats' head and neck were angled. Maximum reach increased with increasing height at withers and height of the feed table. The presence of a feeding area step had no influence on minimum and maximum reach. Based on these results, the goats' feeding place can be designed to ensure that the animals are able to reach all of the feed in the manger or on the feed table with a relaxed posture, thus avoiding injuries and nonphysiological stress on joints and hooves. A feeding area step up to a maximum of 20 cm need not be taken into account in terms of feeding reach. However, the feed table must be raised at least 10 cm above the standing area to allow the goats to feed in a species-appropriate, relaxed posture.
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