Voluntary intake, digestibility and nitrogen utilization by sheep fed ensiled forage legumes

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An experiment was conducted to compare the nutritive value of a range of ensiled forage legumes. Silages were prepared from late second-cut lotus (Lotus corniculatus), first-cut sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) and both early and late second-cut red clover (Trifolium pratense) and lucerne (Medicago sativa). Each experimental silage was offered to six Suffolk-cross wether lambs, aged 10 months, housed in metabolism crates. Voluntary intakes of dry matter ranged from 71 to 81 g kg -1 liveweight 0.75 d -1. Voluntary intakes were similar on the lotus, sainfoin and late-cut red clover silages, but the voluntary intake on the lotus silage was significantly higher than that on the lucerne silages and early-cut red dover silage. Digestibility of organic matter in the dry matter was highest for the lotus silage (0.650), and lowest for the sainfoin silage (0.527). Although most of the N in the sainfoin silage appeared to be in an indigestible form, N digestibility was approximately 0.70 for the other legume silages. The highest loss of N in urine, 0.75 of N intake, was recorded for lambs offered the lucerne silage. Differences in N intake, N loss in faeces and N loss in urine led to statistically significant differences in the amount of N retained, with the highest and lowest N balances recorded for the lotus (16 g N d -1) and sainfoin (-2 g N d -1) silages respectively. The results confirm that these high protein forages have high intake potential. While low N digestibility appears to limit the nutritional value of sainfoin, further research could formulate feeding strategies that improve the efficiency with which the protein from red clover, lucerne and lotus is utilized.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)271-279
Number of pages9
JournalGrass and Forage Science
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2000


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