Comparison of 2 high-throughput spectral techniques to predict differences in diet composition of grazing sheep and cattle

J. M. Moorby, M. D. Fraser, I. Parveen, M. R. F. Lee, J. -P Wold

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Diet composition can be estimated in free-ranging animals by the use of n-alkane and longchain fatty alcohol concentrations in feces. However, this technique involves relatively laborious and costly analytical techniques. Two spectroscopy techniques were investigated as a way of determining whether dietary differences are likely, thus indicating whether the more expensive and labor-intensive techniques for more detailed analysis are justified. Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) and front-face fluorescence emission spectroscopy (λ excitation = 380 nm, λ emission = 600 to 760 nm) were used to analyze fecal samples collected from 2 different breeds of cattle and sheep (4 groups in total, n = 6 per group) grazing moorland plants in 2 grazing sessions. These fecal samples were also analyzed for alkane and alcohol concentrations. Fourier-transform infrared spectra, particularly in the alkane regions, demonstrated clear separation between animal species. Fluorescence emission spectra showed similar separation; fluorophores were most likely chlorophylls and their derivatives. Multivariate analysis of all 3 data sets showed similar variation within and between groups of cattle and sheep, indicating differences in diet selection particularly between species, but also between breed and grazing session. Both spectroscopy methods showed utility in suggesting differences in diet composition that would be worth investigating using more detailed chemical analyses. Of the 2 techniques, the FTIR spectroscopy gave the better comparative results, being able to detect differences in sampling months that were detected with alkanes and alcohols that the fluorescence emission spectroscopy did not detect.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1905-1913
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Animal Science
Issue number5
Early online date29 Jan 2010
Publication statusPublished - 01 May 2010


  • Cattle
  • Diet selection
  • Fluorescence emission spectroscopy
  • Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy
  • Grazing
  • n-alkane
  • Cattle/physiology
  • Diet/veterinary
  • Spectrometry, Fluorescence
  • Animals
  • Animal Husbandry
  • Feces/chemistry
  • Sheep/physiology
  • Feeding Behavior/physiology


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