Results of a 13-week group feeding study (Expt 1) and a 16-day digestion and mineral, nitrogen and water balance study (Expt 2) in which alkali-treated rice hulls were fed to young Border-Leicester × Merino sheep of 24-kg body weight are reported.
Five pelletized diets comprising a 1:1 mixture of ground lucerne and alkali-treated ground rice hulls (Expt 1) or these five diets supplemented with biuret plus one diet of 100% lucerne pellet (Expt 2) were examined.
Sodium hydroxide at levels of 0, 2·5, 5, 10 and 15% (w/w) was applied to rice hulls for 12 h and neutralized with acid. Sheep fed the 5% NaOH treatment level or greater maintained or increased body weight: those fed the 0 and 2·5% level lost body weight. Daily food organic matter intakes were: 5% alkali, 1025 g, 0% alkali, 765 g; 100% lucerne, 1195 g.
Organic matter digestibility was highest (52%) for the diet containing rice hulls treated at the 15% alkali level and this digestion coefficient was significantly greater (P < 0·05) than for the control diet (nil alkali) (42%) but not significantly greater than for diets with 2·5, 5 and 10% levels of alkali.
It'is indicated that cell wall organic matter of rice hulls treated with 15% alkali was digested to an extent of 62% whereas cell wall organic matter in the control diet (0% alkali) was digested to an extent of 13%.
Cellulose digestion (52%) of the rice hull component of diets was not increased by alkali treatment suggesting the alkali to have freed hemicellulose components of the cell wall for digestive attack. Digestibility of lignin of the rice hull component of diets was not significantly increased by alkali treatment.
Animals tolerated the salt contents of diets containing rice hulls treated at high levels of alkali, were able to clear the excess salt from their bodies without significant alteration of their blood haematocrit ratios, and drank significantly more water. All sheep fed diets containing rice hulls had appreciable amounts of soluble silica in their blood plasma (> 100/μg/l) and urine (> 25 μg/l).
It is concluded that alkali beneficiation of rice hulls offers a means of enhancing their nutrient worth to ruminants and that the process requires further study.