Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Monitoring digestibility of forages for herbivores: a new application for an old approach

January 1, 2015

Ruminant populations are often limited by how well individuals are able to acquire nutrients for growth, maintenance, and reproduction. Nutrient supply to the animal is dictated by the concentration of nutrients in feeds and the efficiency of digesting those nutrients (i.e., digestibility). Many different methods have been used to measure digestibility of forages for wild herbivores, all of which rely on collecting rumen fluid from animals or incubation within animals. Animal-based methods can provide useful estimates, but the approach is limited by the expense of fistulated animals, wide variation in digestibility among animals, and contamination from endogenous and microbial sources that impairs the estimation of nutrient digestibility. We tested an in vitro method using a two-stage procedure using purified enzymes. The first stage, a 6 h acid–pepsin treatment, was followed by a combined 72 h amylase–cellulase or amylase–Viscozyme treatment. We then validated our estimates using in sacco and in vivo methods to digest samples of the same forages. In vitro estimates of dry matter (DM) digestibility were correlated with estimates of in sacco and in vivo DM digestibility (both P < 0.01). The in vitro procedure using Viscozyme (r2 = 0.77) was more precise than the in vitro procedure using cellulase (r2 = 0.59). Both procedures can be used to predict in sacco digestibility after correcting for the biases of each method. We used the in vitro method to measure digestibility of nitrogen (N; 0.07–0.95 g/g), which declined to zero as total N content declined below 0.03–0.06 g/g of DM. The in vitro method is well suited to monitoring forage quality over multiple years because it is reproducible, can be used with minimal investment by other laboratories without animal facilities, and can measure digestibility of individual nutrients such as N.

Publication Year 2015
Title Monitoring digestibility of forages for herbivores: a new application for an old approach
DOI 10.1139/cjz-2014-0207
Authors Lindsey L. Vansomeren, Perry S. Barboza, Daniel P. Thompson, David D. Gustine
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Canadian Journal of Zoology
Index ID 70169156
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Alaska Science Center Biology WTEB