The effects of spineless cactus (Opuntia ficus indica var. inermis) supply on digestion of wheat straw was studied n rumen cannulated sheep. In addition to urea (10 g) and mineral and vitamin mixture (30 g), the animals — received wheat straw alone or supplemented with graded levels of spineless cactus (150, 300, 450 or 600 g dry natter (DM) per head per day). The diets were studied in five successive 25-day periods from February to June 992 in Tunisia. "Water consumption, food intake, digestibility, diurnal variations of ruminal fermentation (pH, mmonia nitrogen, volatile fatty acids, protozoal concentrations in rumen fluid) and cellulolytic activity in the umen were measured.
Spineless cactus had high contents of ash (260 g/kg DM) and water (926 g/kg fresh weight) and low neutral-detergent fibre content (185 g NDF per kg DM). Crude protein (CP) content of spineless cactus was 2-5 times reater than that of wheat straw (58 v. 23 g/kg DM, respectively). Drinking water consumption was substantially educed (P < 0·001) as the level of spineless cactus increased. When spineless cactus supply exceeded 300 g DM peray, sheep consumed practically no drinking water. The voluntary intake of straw increased significantly with vineless cactus level. Total diet apparent digesibilities of DM, organic matter and CP tended to increase with mneless cactus supply. Such increase was significant only with the 450 and 600 g levels of cactus. NDF and acidetergent-fibre apparent digestibilities were not affected by spineless cactus supply. Addition of spineless cactus up i 300 g DM significantly increased ruminal ammonia nitrogen (P< 0·001) but there was no additional effect with irther supplementation. When sheep were supplemented with spineless cactus, total rumen volatile fatty acid icreased and acetate: propionate ratio decreased significantly. Moreover, spineless cactus supply increased total wtozoa number and reduced significantly rumen cellulolytic activity measured as DM and NDF disappearance of heat straw from incubated nylon bags.