Published online by Cambridge University Press: 27 March 2009
A feeding trial was performed during 1986, in Townsville, Australia, to describe alterations in nutrient metabolism, and the coincident gross changes in rumen microbiology, when a sulphurdeficient diet was supplemented with inorganic sulphur. Eight Merino sheep were fed ad libitum a spear grass (Heteropogon contortus) hay of low sulphur content (0·4 g/kg DM), supplemented with all other essential minerals. Upon supplementation, daily sulphur intake was increased to c. 0·75 g and four animals continued to be fed ad libitum (group A) whilst the remaining animals were restricted in feed intake (group B). Sulphur supplementation caused a twofold increase in the feed intake of group A (P < 0·05). In both groups of animals, sulphur supplementation increased the fermentation of cotton thread cellulose (P < 0·05), as well as of ground plant dry matter (P < 0·05), suspended in the rumen in nylon bags for 24 and 48 h. The apparent digestibility of organic matter (AOMD) was also increased by sulphur supplementation; from 30·6 to 39·3% in group A (P < 0·05) and from 35·1 to 41·5% in group B (P > 0·05). The difference in AOMD between groups with sulphur supplementation was not significant, despite group B maintaining a longer retention of fluid digesta in the rumen (20·7 v. 25·3 h) with a significantly lowered rumen volume (4·68 v 3·67 litres, P < 0·05) and outflow of fluid digesta from this site (5·31 v 3·58 litres/day, P < 0·05). Sulphur supplementation increased the molar proportion of acetic acid in rumen fluid (P < 0·05) but lowered propionic and butyric acids in group A (P < 0·05). Only the molar proportion of propionic acid in rumen fluid was significantly lowered in group B (P < 0·05). In both groups of animals, counts of fluid-borne rumen bacteria, protozoa and sporangia of rumen anaerobic fungi (RAF) all increased significantly with sulphur supplementation (P < 0·05 in all instances), but no significant differences were observed between groups in microbial counts, despite the different feeding regimes. The increase in sporangial forms of RAF was most marked; no sporangial forms were detectable until the diet was supplemented with sulphate and measurable concentrations of rumen sulphide were observed. This is the first account of nondetectable concentrations of RAF brought about by the nutritional status of the diet.
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