Adaptation capacity of Boer goats to saline drinking water
Due to global climatic changes, water and soil salinization is an increasing worldwide phenomenon, thus creating new threats for farm animal production. The present study was designed to investigate the adaptation capacity of goats towards sodium chloride (NaCl) in drinking water. Twelve non-pregnant Boer goats with an average body weight of 50.5 ± 9.0 kg were kept in individual pens. The study was conducted in four phases applying a two-choice preference test. In the control phase (phase 1) only fresh water was supplied in two containers. In phase 2, water with different salt concentrations (0.25%, 0.5%, 0.75%, 1.0%, 1.25% and 1.5%) was offered in one container and tap water in the other (sensitivity test). During the third phase (adaptation), goats were stepwise habituated to saline water by offering only saline water with different increasing concentrations (between 0% and 1.5% NaCl) in both containers. Subsequently, in phase 4 (sensitivity re-test) the same treatment as in phase 2 was repeated. Goats had ad libitum access to hay, water and a mineral licking block. Individual water and feed intake were recorded daily, while body weight and body condition score were measured every 2 ⁿd week. Body weight was not affected by saline water intake, whereas dry matter intake and body condition scores decreased significantly during the experiment. Water intake was significantly (P<0.001) higher in phase 2 (sensitivity test) and phase 3 (adaptation), compared to phase 1 (control) and phase 4 (sensitivity re-test). Total sodium intake followed the same pattern. In phase 2, when goats had the choice between fresh and saline water for the first time they preferred higher salt concentrations and consumed significantly (P<0.001) higher amounts of saline water (75.4 ± 53.2 g/kg BW ⁰.⁸² per day) than in the re-test (40.4 ± 34.0 g/kg BW ⁰.⁸² per day) after the habituation period. Thus, salt discrimination rejection thresholds were lowered to 1.25% in phase 4 compared to 1.5% in phase 2. The results suggest that a stepwise adaptation to saline drinking water in goats is an effective method to habituate the animals to saline water intake when concentrations were below 1.5%. Goats reacted more sensitively to the salinity of drinking water after prolonged exposure to saline water indicating flexible regulation mechanisms depending on the total sodium balance of the animal.