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New perspectives on the use of tropical plants to improve ruminant nutrition

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  28 February 2007

B. Teferedegne*
Rowett Research Institute, Bucksburn, Aberdeen AB21 9SB, UK and International Livestock Research Institute, PO Box 5689, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Corresponding author: Belete Teferedegne, fax +44(0)1224 716687, email
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Inadequate nutrition is the main cause of low productivity by ruminants in sub-Saharan Africa. The primary feed resources in the region include natural pasture and crop residues that have tough texture, poor digestibility and are deficient in nutrients. These deficiencies can be corrected by supplementation with high-density feeds such as oilseed cakes and proteins of animal origin. However, protein sources such as oilseed cakes are beyond the economic reach of most farmers, while the incidence of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in Western intensive animal production may be thought to argue against the use of animal proteins. Local tree legumes have been investigated as potential supplements for ruminants because of their beneficial effect of increasing metabolizable energy intake, N intake and feed efficiency, and improving animal performance. However, our work has suggested that some plant materials may have a nutritional value beyond simply their nutrient content, i.e. as rumen-manipulating agents. The foliage of some tree legumes has been shown to be selectively toxic to rumen protozoa. Rumen protozoa ingest and digest bacteria and fungi, degrading their cellular protein to NH3. Microbial protein turnover due to protozoal predation in the rumen may result in the net microbial protein outflow being less than half the total protein synthesized. Results from in vivo experiments have clearly shown that duodenal flow of both undegraded dietary and bacterial protein is generally increased by defaunation. However, no practical method has been developed to date to eliminate protozoa. Anti-protozoal plants may be promising, safe, natural defaunating agents.

Postgraduate Symposium
Copyright © The Nutrition Society 2000


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