As part of an investigation of factors responsible for a previously reported lower efficiency of carcass lean gain in steers offered grass silage diets, 16 Simmental × Friesian steers (515 (s.e. 6·4) kg) were offered perennial ryegrass silage ad libitum (C0) or silage plus rolled barley at 200 (C20), 400 (C40) or 600 (C60) g/kg total diet dry matter (DM). Barley-supplemented diets were intake-restricted to provide equal DM and metabolizable energy (ME) intakes to those offered C0. Eight steers were selected at random to determine the ME contents of the diets by open-circuit respiration calorimetry. The other eight steers were offered the same diets and were blood-sampled at 20- to 60-min intervals, for 10 h, to monitor changes in the concentrations of a number of nutritionally related plasma metabolites and hormones. Estimated ME intakes in these steers were 85·7, 83·1, 84·4 and 86·2 (s.e. 0·91) MJ/day from diets C0, C20, C40 and C60 respectively. Rumen-fistulated Hereford × Friesian steers provided 24-h rumen data for the same diets offered at equal amounts of ME per kg metabolic live weight.
Mean 24-h plasma concentrations of insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) were linearly and positively related (P < 0·01 and P < 0·001 respectively) and glucagon quadratically related (P < 0·05) to the proportion of barley in the diet. Plasma insulin increased after feeding on all diets but concentrations on diets C40 and C60 were significantly higher than those on C0 and C20 at all post-feeding sampling times up to 9 h after feeding. Plasma IGF-1 concentrations increased above pre-feeding levels following feeding of the higher barley diets (C40 and C60; P = 0·053) but remained unchanged in steers offered C0 and C20. Mean plasma concentrations of glucose were unaffected by diet but those of β-hydroxybutyrate (BOHB) and urea were positively and negatively related respectively (both P < 0·001) to the proportion of barley in the diet. Plasma BOHB and urea concentrations also changed with time after feeding (P < 0·001). Amongst the rumen parameters measured (pH; ammonia and volatile fatty acid concentrations and proportions) only the mean 24-h concentrations and proportions of butyrate were positively related to the proportion of barley in the diet (P = 0·051 and P < 0·05 respectively). All rumen parameters were affected by time after feeding (acetate, P < 0·01; others, P < 0·001) but there was no interaction between treatment and time for any parameter.