Three silages were prepared from a second cut of perennial ryegrass, using additives of 2 l formic acid/t fresh crop together with formaldehyde at either 0, 47 or 100 g/kg crude protein (CP) in the crop. The silages were offered to appetite either alone, or with supplements of maize starch or maize starch + urea, to 18 British Friesian steer calves, half of which were rumen-cannulated. The maize starch and urea supplements were provided at 184·4 and 18·9 g/kg total dietary dry matter (D.M.) respectively.
The low contents of volatile fatty acids and ammonia N in each silage indicated that they were well preserved. Formaldehyde treatment reduced protein degradation in the silages and reduced total acid content. There was a small increase in butyric acid content at the low application of formaldehyde, and the content of 2,3·butanediol increased with formaldehyde application.
Formaldehyde treatment depressed intake, although the decline at the high level of application was less when calves were given the starch + urea supplement. Supplementation with starch reduced silage D.M. intake, although total D.M. intake was unaffected, and increased digestible organic matter (OM) intake. The addition of urea to the supplement further increased total D.M., digestible OM and digestible energy intakes. The apparent digestibilities of D.M., OM, N, cellulose and energy were depressed by formaldehyde treatment. Starch supplementation increased the apparent digestibility of D.M. and OM but depressed that of N and cellulose. The deleterious effect on cellulose digestibility was most evident at the high application of formaldehyde. Starch + urea supplementation further increased the digestibility of D.M. and OM, and increased N digestibility. Both supplements increased energy digestibility.
N retention was improved by formaldehyde treatment, particularly when the starchfurea supplement was provided. Supplementation with starch did not improve the utilization of dietary N, but reduced N retention on the formaldehyde-treated silages.
Within the rumen, ammonia-N concentration declined with increasing application of formaldehyde, and was increased by starch + urea supplementation. There was a tendency for the molar proportion of acetate to increase, and that of propionate and butyrate to decrease with increasing application of formaldehyde. Starch supplementation resulted in a small increase in the molar proportion of butyrate.
The apparent rate of digestion of silage in nylon bags in the rumen was reduced by the high application of formaldehyde. On this silage diet, rate of digestion was further depressed by supplementation with starch, but improved by supplementation with starch + urea. The apparent rate of digestion was also depressed when a reference silage (the control) was incubated in the rumens of calves on the high formaldehyde silage, indicating that the adverse effect of formaldehyde was partly due to an effect on the rumen environment. However, it is also possible that formaldehyde reacted with cell wall components, inhibiting fibre digestion.
It was concluded that formaldehyde treatment, but not starch supplementation.