1. Responses to twice-weekly oral supplementation with 4.0 g methionine were measured with lambs (27 kg) grazing kale (Brassica oleracea) for 10 weeks (Expt 1). In a second experiment with sheep fed on kale at hourly intervals, rumen fractional outflow rates of CrEDTA and ruthenium Tris(1, 10 phenanthroline) markers were measured from the rates of decline in their concentrations. Rumen turnover of S-methyl-L-cysteine sulphoxide (SMCO) and of carbohydrate (CHO) constituents were also measured. The kale fed contained 11.4 g SMCO/kg dry matter and the ratio, readily-fermentable: structural CHO was high at 2.9.
2. Severe haemolytic anaemia, associated with low live-weight gain (LWG), occurred in the lambs during the initial 5 weeks of grazing, due to rumen fermentation of SMCO. Oral methionine supplementation raised plasma concentrations of methionine and cysteine, increased wool growth rate, and increased LWG during the initial 5 weeks. Methionine supplementation also increased rumen pool and plasma SMCO concentrations, suggesting reduced rumen SMCO fermentation.
3. In Expt 2, rumen degradation rate of SMCO (1.2/h) was calculated to be twice as fast as that of the most rapidly fermented dietary CHO constituents and eight times faster than the rate of water outflow (0.16/h), thus explaining its virtually complete rumen degradation and toxicity in brassica diets. It was estimated that 1.2 g of each 4.0 g methionine administered would have escaped rumen degradation, due to the high rate of water outflow from the rumen.
4. Disappearance rates of CHO constituents from the rumen were as predicted for normal ruminant diets, showing that rumen metabolism of SMCO did not have a depressive effect. Hemicellulose disappeared at a slower rate than the other CHO, suggesting that hemicellulose digestion may be rate-limiting for cell-wall digestion.
5. It is suggested that the responses to oral methionine supplementation can be explained through methionine reducing rumen SMCO degradation, and through a significant portion of the methionine escaping rumen degradation.