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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Lexington, Kentucky » Forage-animal Production Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #398069

Research Project: The Roles of Forage and Phytochemicals at the Plant-Microbe-Animal Nexus for Sustainable Ruminant

Location: Forage-animal Production Research

Title: Red clover supplementation modifies rumen fermentation and promotes feed efficiency in ram lambs

item Weinert-Nelson, Jennifer
item ELY, DONALD - University Of Kentucky
item Flythe, Michael
item Hamilton, Tracy
item MAY, JOHN - University Of Kentucky
item Ferrell, Jessica
item HAMILTON, MATTHEW - University Of Kentucky
item JACKS, WHITNEY - University Of Kentucky
item Harlow, Brittany

Submitted to: Journal of Animal Science
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/7/2023
Publication Date: 2/8/2023
Citation: Weinert-Nelson, J.R., Ely, D.G., Flythe, M.D., Hamilton, T.A., May, J.B., Ferrell, J.L., Hamilton, M.C., Jacks, W.L., Davis, B.E. 2023. Red clover supplementation modifies rumen fermentation and promotes feed efficiency in ram lambs. Journal of Animal Science. 101. Article skad036.

Interpretive Summary: Red clover is rich in the bioactive isoflavone, biochanin A. The goal was to evaluate the impacts of biochanin A supplementation via red clover hay on growth performance of ram lambs as well as the rumen microbiota and fermentation. Low levels of red clover hay inclusion (7.5% and 15% w/w of the total diet) in high-concentrate finishing diets improved feed efficiency of ram lambs, promoting weight gain while decreasing feed intake. Red clover hay supplementation suppressed ruminal protein-wasting, peptide- and amino-acid degrading and starch-utilizing bacteria compared to control diets without isoflavones. Red clover hay also promoted fiber degrading bacteria and fiber utilization. Lamb growth and microbiological effects of red clover were consistent regardless of supplementation level in the diet. Results of this study indicate that low levels of red clover hay can produce production benefits in lamb finishing systems and demonstrated the efficacy of red clover as a functional feed, or feed with biological activities, in the context of its traditional use as a forage feedstuff.

Technical Abstract: Red clover produces a isoflavones, including biochanin A, which have been shown to have microbiological effects on the rumen while also promoting growth in beef cattle. The objective was to determine if supplementation of biochanin A via red clover hay would produce similar effects on the rumen microbiota and improve growth performance of lambs. Twenty-four individually-housed Polypay ram lambs (initial age: 114 ± 1 d; initial weight: 38.1 ± 0.59 kg) were randomly assigned to one of three experimental diets (85:15 concentrate:roughage ratio; n = 8 rams treatment-1): CON – control diet in which the roughage component (15% w/w of the total diet) consisted of orchardgrass hay; 7.5-RC – red clover hay substituted for half (7.5% w/w of the total diet) of the roughage component; and 15-RC – the entire roughage component (15% w/w of the total diet) consisted of red clover hay. Feed intake and weight gain were measured at 14-d intervals for the duration of the 56-d trial, and rumen microbiological measures were assessed on day 0, 28, and 56. Red clover supplementation impacted growth performance of ram lambs. Average daily gains (ADG) were greater in ram lambs supplemented with red clover hay (7.5-RC and 15-RC) than for those fed the CON diet (P < 0.05). Conversely, dry matter intake (DMI) was lower in 7.5-RC and 15-RC than for CON lambs (P = 0.03). Differences in ADG and DMI resulted in greater feed efficiency in ram lambs supplemented with red clover hay (both 7.5-RC and 15-RC) compared to CON (P < 0.01). Rumen microbiota were also altered by red clover supplementation. The total viable number of hyper-ammonia-producing bacteria in 7.5-RC and 15-RC decreased over the course of the experiment and were lower than CON by day 28 (P = 0.04). Amylolytic bacteria were also lower in 15-RC than in CON (P = 0.03), with a trend for lower amylolytic bacteria in 7.5-RC (P = 0.08). In contrast, there was tendency for greater cellulolytic bacteria in red clover supplemented lambs than in CON (P = 0.06). Red clover supplementation also increased fiber utilization, with greater ex vivo dry matter digestibility of hay for both 7.5-RC and 15-RC compared to CON by day 28 (P < 0.03). Results of this study indicate that low levels of red clover hay can elicit production benefits in high-concentrate lamb finishing systems through alteration of the rumen microbiota.