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Effect of increasing the proportion of chicory in forage-based diets on intake and digestion by sheep

  • V. Niderkorn (a1), C. Martin (a1), M. Bernard (a2), A. Le Morvan (a1), Y. Rochette (a1) and R. Baumont (a1)...

There is a lot of evidence that chicory could be a highly palatable and nutritious source of forage for ruminants, well adapted to climate change and dry conditions in summer, thanks to its resistance to drought and high water content. This study aimed to describe the effect of incorporating chicory to ryegrass or to a ryegrass–white clover mixture on feeding behaviour, digestive parameters, nitrogen (N) balance and methane (CH4) emissions in sheep. In total, three swards of ryegrass, white clover and chicory were established and managed in a manner ensuring the forage use at a constant vegetative stage throughout the experiment. In all, four dietary treatments (pure ryegrass; binary mixture: 50% ryegrass–50% chicory; ternary mixture: 50% ryegrass–25% white clover–25% chicory; and pure chicory) were evaluated in a 4×4 replicated Latin square design with eight young castrated Texel sheep. Each experimental period consisted of an 8-day diet adaptation phase, followed by a 6-day measuring phase during which intake dynamics, chewing activity, digestibility, rumen liquid passage rate, fermentation end-products, N balance and CH4 emissions were determined. Data were analysed using a mixed model and orthogonal contrasts were used to detect the potential associative effects between ryegrass and chicory. The daily voluntary dry matter intake was lower for pure ryegrass than for diets containing chicory (P<0.001) and increased quadratically from 1.39 to 1.74 kg/day with increasing proportion of chicory. Huge positive quadratic effects (P<0.001) between ryegrass and chicory were detected on eating time and eating rate just after feeding indicating an increase of the motivation to eat with mixtures, whereas rumination activity decreased linearly with the proportion of chicory (P<0.001). The organic matter digestibility was similar among treatments (around 80%), but a strong positive quadratic P<0.001) effect was observed on liquid passage rate suggesting that chicory allowed fast particle breakdown in the rumen. Animals fed with the ryegrass–white clover–chicory mixture had the higher urinary N losses (P<0.001), whereas retained N per day or per g N intake was greater when the proportion of chicory was at least 50% (P<0.001) being ~40% greater than for the other treatments. The CH4 yield was lower with pure chicory than with the other treatments (P<0.001) for which emissions were similar. In conclusion, mixing ryegrass and chicory in equal proportions produces a synergy on voluntary intake and an improved N use efficiency likely due to complementarity in chemical composition, increased motivation to eat and faster ruminal particle breakdown.

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