In order to learn more about the digestibility, breakdown when eaten and physical structure of stovers
and straws, seven diets were compared in one experiment and eight in another. The diets in the first
experiment were: the upper and lower parts of lucerne (Medicago sativa) hay, the leaves, upper stem
and lower stem of maize (Zea mays) stover and the leaves and stem of sorghum (Sorghum vulgare)
stover. The diets in the second experiment were: the upper and lower parts of lucerne hay, the leaves,
stems and whole stover of millet (Setaria italica), wheat (Triticum aestivum) straw, rice (Oryza sativa)
straw and sweet potato (Ipomoea batatas) haulm. The diets were examined for in vitro digestibility in
three forms: milled, chopped (1 cm lengths) and chewed (by cattle). The lengths and widths of the
chewed particles were recorded in both experiments. Aspects of the morphology and vascular
structure of plant parts of the diets and of chewed particles were recorded in the second experiment.
The in vitro digestibility of chopped or chewed plant material was lower (by 11 and 12 percentage
units, respectively, on average) than that of milled material. The difference between chewed and
milled material in in vitro digestibility was smaller with leaves (5 percentage units, on average) than
with stems (18 percentage units, on average) in maize, sorghum and millet. Digestibility of chewed
material was similar to or lower than that of chopped material, except with the leaves of maize,
sorghum and millet. Millet stover had higher in vitro digestibility than wheat straw or rice straw,
whether the diet was milled, chopped or chewed.
The thinnest stem internode vascular bundles recorded (0·14 mm) were in wheat. The percentage
of stem internode cross-sectional area occupied by vascular bundles was in the range 6–8 for lucerne,
millet, wheat and rice. The mean numbers of veins or vascular bundles per chewed particle were in
the range 6–23. The mean length of the chewed particles varied from 10 mm with the upper stem of
maize to 18 mm with sorghum stem and maize leaves. The mean width of the chewed particles varied
from 1·8 mm with rice straw to 5·4 mm with maize leaves.
It is suggested that the low digestibility of mature plant tissue such as stovers and straws is not
particularly due to thick vascular strands or to a high proportion of vascular tissue, but rather to a
high proportion of cell wall and incomplete and delayed access by rumen microorganisms to much
of the cell wall.