1. A total of six diets based on maize silage were formulated to examine the effect of protein- and non-protein-nitrogen, and energy supplementation on the flow of amino acids to the small intestine and the synthesis of microbial amino acids in the rumen of growing cattle. All diets contained 24 g totai nitrogen (N)/kg dry matter (DM), of which 550 g N/kg total N was supplied by either urea or fish meal. Four diets contained low levels of barley (estimated total dietary metabolizable energy content of 10·4 M J/kgDM) and urea-N and fish meal-N were supplied in the ratios 3:1, 1·4:1, 0·6:1 and 0·3:1. The other two diets contained between 300 and 400 g barley/kg total diet (11·3 MJ metabolizable energy/kg DM) and the urea-N to fish meal-N ratios were 3:1 and 0·3:1.
2. On the four low-energy diets, fish meal inclusion tended to reduce the extent of organic matter (OM) digestion in the rumen but significantly increased duodenal amino acid supply (P < 0·05) in a quadratic manner. Microbial-N synthesis was increased by the two intermediate levels of fish meal supplementation but declined at the highest level of inclusion. With increasing levels of fish meal inclusion, a greater proportion of the dietary protein was found to escape rumen degradation and the apparent degradabilities of fish meal and maize-silage protein of all four diets were estimated to be 0·22 and 0·73 respectively.
3. The substitution of barley for part of the maize silage enhanced duodenal supply of amino acids, irrespective of the form of the N supplement, and stimulated microbial amino acid synthesis. For all diets efficiency of microbial-N synthesis was found to vary between 22·5 and 46 g N/kg rumen-digested OM. Contrary to what was found for low-energy diets, the inclusion of fish meal tended to reduce the flow of dietary protein to the small intestine, but these differences were not statistically significant.
4. The results appertaining to microbial synthesis, dietary protein degradabilities and duodenal amino acid flow for all diets are discussed in relation to the Agricultural Research Council (1980) proposals for the protein requirements of ruminants, and the production responses observed when similar diets were fed to growing cattle.