Animal Science Department


Date of this Version



J. Anim. Sci. 2014.92:1621–1629


© 2014 American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved.


The objective was to determine the effect of forage quality on apparent total tract digestibility and ruminal fermentation in cattle versus sheep. Five yearling English crossbred (Hereford × Angus) steers (440.4 ± 35.6 kg of initial BW) and 5 yearling whiteface (Rambouillet × Columbia × Debouillet) wethers (44.4 ± 4.6 kg of initial BW), each fitted with a ruminal cannula, were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 forage sources within ruminant specie, and the study was conducted over 3 periods. For forage source, both animal and period served as the blocking factor with all forage sources represented once within each animal and all forage sources represented at least once within each period. The treatment structure was arranged in a 2 × 3 factorial with ruminant species (2) and forage source (3) as the factors. Forage sources were 1) alfalfa hay (Medicago sativa; 17.5% CP and 34.1% NDF, DM basis), 2) warm-season grass hay mix (Bothriochloa ischaemum and Cynodon dactylon; 7.3% CP and 74.7% NDF, DM basis), and 3) lovegrass hay (Eragrostis curvula; 2.5% CP and 81.9% NDF, DM basis). As a percent of BW, steers and wethers consumed similar (P ≤ 0.06) amounts of forage, and intake was more influenced by forage quality (P < 0.001) than ruminant species (P = 0.35). When expressed per unit of metabolic BW, cattle consumed more (P < 0.001) DM, NDF, and N than sheep. Apparent total tract digestibility was similar among steers and wethers when alfalfa or grass hay was fed, but decreased to a greater extent in wethers when low-quality lovegrass hay was fed (ruminant species × diet interaction, P ≤ 0.01). Rate (%/h) of ruminal NDF disappearance was greater (P = 0.02) for alfalfa and grass hay than lovegrass, but was not influenced (P = 0.12) by ruminant species. In addition, ruminal DM fill was influenced more (P < 0.01) by forage than by ruminant species (P = 0.07). Steers and wethers had greater (P < 0.01) DM fill from grass hay and lovegrass hay than alfalfa before and 5 h after feeding. Ruminal VFA were generally not influenced (P ≥ 0.06) by ruminant specie. Results suggest that apparent total tract digestibilities are more similar among ruminant species when moderate- to high-quality forages are evaluated. However, sheep are not an adequate model for cattle when low-quality forages are compared because cattle digest low-quality forages to a greater extent than sheep. Expressing digestibility as digestible intake per unit of BW allows for a wider range of forage qualities to be compared when substituting sheep for cattle.