Effect of stage of maturity of grass at harvest on intake, chewing activity and distribution of particle size in faeces from pregnant ewes

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Alireza Jalali, Peder Nørgaard, Martin Riis Weisbjerg, E. Nadeau

This study was conducted to investigate the effect of stage of maturity at harvest on the intake of grass silage, eating and ruminating activity and the distribution of faecal particle size in ewes during late pregnancy. A total of 18 Swedish Finull × Dorset 85 ± 8 kg (mean ± s.d.) ewes bearing twins were randomly assigned to three dietary treatments 6 weeks before lambing. The treatments included ad libitum feeding with early harvested (EH), medium harvested (MH) or late harvested (LH) primary-growth grass silage with 45%, 58% and 63% NDF on a dry matter (DM) basis, respectively. Intake and chewing activity were recorded and faeces were sampled over 4 continuous days for each individual ewe. The faeces samples were washed in nylon bags, freeze dried and sieved with pore sizes from 2.4 mm to 0.1 mm; particles less than 0.1 mm in size were also collected. Subsamples of each sieving fraction were scanned and the dimensions of the individual particles in each sieving fraction were measured by image analysis. In addition, the number of particles longer than 7 mm was counted from the particles retained on a sieve with a pore size of 2.4 mm using a simple wet sieving technique. The time spent eating and ruminating per kg of DM intake was affected by the stage of maturity at harvest; it was shorter in ewes fed EH compared with ewes fed MH and LH (P < 0.05). In comparison with feeding LH, feeding EH resulted in the retention of a larger proportion of particles in the lower and upper sieve fractions (<0.2 mm and >1 mm, respectively, P < 0.01), a smaller mean particle size (P < 0.05) and a smaller mean particle width in faeces (P < 0.01). The results from the simple wet sieving technique confirmed the results from dry sieving and image analysis, showing a higher number of large particles in faeces from ewes fed the EH compared with the ewes fed the MH and LH (P < 0.001). In conclusion, the distribution of faecal particle size might be considered as a footprint of the characteristics of forage fibre eaten by ewes.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number11
Pages (from-to)1774-1783
Number of pages10
Publication statusPublished - 2012

ID: 38105996