Herds of domestic reindeer are kept year-round on forage of natural pastures, extending in hard-to-reach areas of the Arctic territories using the stocks of lichens as food resources.
Forage lichens play an important role in reindeer physiology during the snowy period in winter and early spring pastures. At this time, the amount of consumed lichens in the diet of mainland reindeer of Nenets AO varies from 53.4 to 83.6 %.
The ability of reindeer to consume and digest large quantities of lichens is one of the main features of the diet of this species due to the enzyme produced by the body, lichenase, which ensures the digestion of lichenin, the main nutrient of lichens.
The role of lichens as a high-energy food is extremely important, especially in winter, when the energy expenditure for maintaining the body temperature regime (homeostasis) and forage extraction increases by 25-35 %.
The main food in the diet of reindeer is lichens and green plants, both fresh and wilted (old growth, rags). The most common bushy lichens eaten by reindeer include Cladonia alpestris, Cladonia rangiferina, Cladonia forestis (Cladonia sylvatica), Cetraria Icelandica (Cetraria islandica).
The combination of the jagel and herbaceous fodder in the diet of reindeer provides better digestibility and good physiological condition of the animals.
The study of the structure of the diet of animals makes it possible to determine the ratio of the consumed main reindeer forages – lichen and herbaceous forages used by animals as pasture forage in different grazing seasons and physiological condition.
Lichens in the diet of reindeer give a specific taste to meat and enhance the dietary properties of the product. This makes the meat more valuable and attractive for export to Scandinavian countries.
The purpose of the research was to determine the amount of lichens consumed by reindeer of the farm “Ilyich Way”.
In the period 2019-2020, 22 samples of the rumen contents of reindeer from January to May were studied. Rumen content samples were taken after animals were slaughtered on pasture in an amount of 150-200 g from each animal (see photo below.).
Winter and early spring pastures of the SPK Put’ Ilyicha are located in the subzone of southern tundra, northern and southern forest tundra of the Bolshezemelskaya tundra. According to the project of internal management of reindeer pastures, the terms of reindeer grazing at winter pastures are regulated from December 1 till May 1, at early spring pastures from May 2 till June 3. The height of the snow cover is 50-70 cm in winter pastures and 10-50 cm in spring pastures.
As monitoring work, the structure of reindeer ration in SPK Put’ Ilyicha Brigade No.5 was studied.
Analysis of fodder fractions of the rumen showed that lichens dominated in the diet of reindeer grazing in winter pastures from January to April, and their content varied by months from 51.82 to 82.25%, the share of green fodder was 13.15-39.16%, mosses – 4.6-19.0% (Table 1). It follows from the data obtained that lichen fodder dominated the reindeer diet in the winter period.
Table – Structure of the diet of reindeer in the “Put’ Ilyicha” Agricultural & Production Cooperative No. 5 Brigade
Note. n – sample size (years), M – arithmetic mean, SEM – standard error
In 2020, the high level of snow cover in the winter and early spring pastures created difficulties in foraging by animals. With the early beginning of snow melting in 2020, more herbaceous vegetation appeared in the diet of reindeer in May – 38.5 %.
If we consider lichen consumption in the context of sex and age groups, the highest was in females of the last year of birth (76,5 %) and the lowest in males from 3 to 5 years old (59,5 %).
It follows from this that the reindeer of SPK “Put’ Ilyicha” (brigade No.5) from January to April developed the yagel type of feeding.
The study of the contents of the rumen of domestic reindeer shows a close connection between the type of reindeer feeding and the nature or productivity of pastures and the availability of forage.
The research was financially supported by international project No. KO2072 of the Kolarctic cross-border cooperation program “Kolarctic Food Processing Project” with the participation of Russian and Finnish partners.
Tatiana Romanenko, PhD Biology, director of the Naryan-Mar branch of the Federal Research Center for Complex Arctic Studies of the Ural Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences..
Photos: Anton Taybarey, Moscow, Russia.