Measurements were made of the recovery and germination rates of seed of eight species of annual medic (Medicago spp.) and three of clover (Trifolium spp.) after ingestion by sheep. Recovery of medic seed was measured as the number of seeds collected from faeces after feeding, in addition to a basal diet, either (i) 200 g of pods at a single meal, or (ii) a quantity of pods estimated to contain 30000 seeds at a single meal or (iii) 200 g of pods daily for 21 days. Only the first method was applied to the clovers.
There were large differences (P < 0·001) in seed recovery between species, from < 2% to nearly 20% in medics, and up to 59% in T. campestre, which has low single-seed mass. Although there was a curvilinear decrease in seed recovery as single-seed mass increased (r2 = 0·80), the high recovery of M. rotata, a fairly large-seeded species, suggests that there are important differences between species, irrespective of seed size.
When 200 g of medic pods was offered to sheep at a single meal, mean seed recovery was slightly lower than when 200 g of medic pods was offered daily for 21 days. Seed recovery of medics was much higher (P < 0·001) when 30000 seeds were offered at one meal.
Germination rate before ingestion was 1·9–6·5% (P < 0·001) for hard-seeded medics and 2·7–9·7% (P < 0·001) for clovers with low single-seed mass; passage through the digestive tract increased (P < 0·001) germination rate in both medics and clovers.