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Consequences of plant phenolic compounds for productivity and health of ruminants

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  11 August 2008

Garry C. Waghorn*
Nutrition and Behaviour, AgResearch, Grasslands Research Centre, Private Bag 11008, Palmers ton North, New Zealand
Warren C. McNabb
Nutrition and Behaviour, AgResearch, Grasslands Research Centre, Private Bag 11008, Palmers ton North, New Zealand
*Corresponding author: Dr Garry Waghorn, fax +64 6351 8003,
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Plant phenolic compounds are diverse in structure but are characterised by hydroxylated aromatic rings (e.g. flavan-3-ols). They are categorised as secondary metabolites, and their function in plants is often poorly understood. Many plant phenolic compounds are polymerised into larger molecules such as the proanthocyanidins (PA; condensed tannins) and lignins. Only the lignins, PA, oestrogenic compounds and hydrolysable tannins will be considered here. Lignins slow the physical and microbial degradation of ingested feed, because of resilient covalent bonding with hemicellulose and cellulose, rather than any direct effects on the rumen per se. The PA are prevalent in browse and are expressed in the foliage of some legumes (e.g. Lotus spp.), but rarely in grasses. They reduce the nutritive value of poor-quality diets, but can also have substantial benefits for ruminant productivity and health when improved temperate forages are fed. Beneficial effects are dependent on the chemical and physical structure, and concentration of the PA in the diet, but they have been shown to improve live-weight gain, milk yield and protein concentration, and ovulation rate. They prevent bloat in cattle, reduce gastrointestinal nematode numbers, flystrike and CILt production. Some phenolic compounds (e.g. coumestans) cause temporary infertility, whilst those produced by Fusarium fungi found in pasture, silage or stored grains can cause permanent infertility. The HT may be toxic because products of their metabolism can cause liver damage and other metabolic disorders.

Nutrition and Behaviour Group Symposium on ‘Exploitation of medicinal properties of plants by animals and man through food intake and foraging behaviour’
Copyright © The Nutrition Society 2003


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