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The removal of ciliate protozoa, or defaunation, results in the establishment of a new ecosystem in the rumen, consisting only of bacteria and fungi. Although extensive research has been done on ciliate-free ruminants, the role of protozoa in the rumen still provokes considerable debate. The diversity of experimental design, such as animal species, defaunation method, and diet could account for many of the differences observed between defaunation studies. Also it is important to examine the stability of the ciliate-free ecosystem. The aim of this study was to investigate changes in rumen fermentation of ciliate-free sheep over a period of one year.
Eight male castrated sheep, weighing 60-70 kg, received twice daily 700 g of a diet of hay, barley, molasses, fish meal and vitamins/minerals (500, 299.5, 100, 91 and 9.5 g/kg DM respectively). Four sheep were defaunated by the rumen washing technique (Jouany and Senaud, 1979) and kept in isolated pens while the other four were left faunated with a mixed type A ciliate protozoa population. Rumen samples were withdrawn via the rumen cannula and blood samples were taken from the jugular vein -1, 0, 1, 2, 4 and 6 h after feeding. There were three sampling periods: one month, six months and one year after defaunation.