1. An experiment consisting of two separate trials was carried out to study the utilization by beef cattle of high concentrate diets containing different amounts of milled barley straw and of protein. For each trial twenty-four Friesian steers, initially weighing about 270 kg, were divided into three groups and the animals within each group then allocated at random to eight dietary treatments. The treatments were based on an all-concentrate diet and three others containing 10, 20 and 30% of milled (1 in screen) barley straw. Four of the treatments consisted of giving the same concentrate mixture with each level of straw, and the other four involved giving concentrate mixtures with increasing levels of protein so that the percentage of protein in the diets was maintained. All the diets were fed ad libitum until slaughter.
2. Performance in terms of live-weight gain was considered as the net result of a number of factors, notably the total intake of dry matter, the digestibility of the dry matter, the efficiency of utilization of the end products of fermentation in the rumen and the composition of the live-weight gain. The inclusions of 20 and 30% of straw in the diet were associated with lower rates of gain than on corresponding all-concentrate and 10% straw treatments but the differences obtained did not attain significance. Total intakes of dry matter were greater on treatments containing 10 and 20% of straw than on corresponding all-concentrate treatments, but then declined with further increase in level of straw to 30%. This trend was significantly curvilinear (P < 0·01), the equation for the relationship being
Y = 5·881 + 0·131X - 0·004X2,
with Y being the daily intake of dry matter (kg) and X the percentage of straw in the
diet. The maximum intake of dry matter was calculated to occur with a level of 16·4% straw in the diet and represents an increase in total dry matter intake of 18·2% over that on an all-concentrate diet. Food conversion ratio, expressed as total dry matter consumed per kg live-weight gain, tended to increase with increasing proportion of straw in the diet.
3. The mean digestibility of organic matter fell sharply with the inclusion of 10% straw in the ration, the decrease being 8·2% where the protein level was not maintained and 9·1% where it was maintained. Further reductions in digestibility occurred on the 20 and 30% straw diets, but the magnitude of the reductions were considerably less than those brought about by the initial introduction of straw into the ration.
4. The molar percentage of acetic acid in the steam volatile acids of rumen liquor increased markedly, and that of propionic acid decreased sharply from the all-concentrate
to the 10% straw treatment with a similar level of dietary protein. Increase in the level of straw to 30% gave rise to a further increase in the proportion of acetic acid and reduction in that of propionic acid. Analysis of samples taken at 3, 6, 9 and 12 h after
feeding showed appreciable differences in pattern between treatments.
5. Effects of treatment on killing-out percentage were different for each trial. In trial 1 the inclusion of straw in the diet did not cause any reduction in killing-out percentage, but the maintenance of protein level gave rise to a significantly higher killing-out percentage than was obtained with the lower protein groups. In trial 2 the killing-out percentages showed a significantly linear (P < 0·01) decrease with increasing proportion of straw in the ration, and maintenance of protein level did not give any improvement.