1. The ability of ytterbium acetabe (Yb acetate) to fulfil the requirements of a particulate-phase digesta-flow marker in a dual-phase marker system, and of the indigestible acid-detergent-fibre fraction of the feed (IADF) to act as a digesta flow marker, were examined using six mature wether sheep given a diet of dried grass (1 kg dry matter (DM)/d).
2. CrEDTA was continuously infused (240 mg chromium/d) into the rumen of all sheep and Yb acetate was also continuously infused (100 mg Yb/d) into the rumen of three of the sheep. At this level of infusion the equilibrium concentration of Yb in rumen, duodenal and ileal digesta and in faeces could be reliably measured by atomic absorption spectrometry.
3. Estimates of faecal DM excretion based on either Yb or IADF did not differ (P > 0.05) from that determined by total collection, whereas estimates based on Cr were significantly (P < 0.05) lower. Urinary excretion accounted for 3.1% of the infused Cr but no Yb was detected in urine. Estimates of ileal DM flow, assuming total marker recovery, were similar (P > 0.05) with all three markers, whereas the estimate of duodenal DM flow based on IADF was lower (P < 0.05) than the estimates based on either Cr or Yb.
4. Compared with the infusion of Cr alone, the infusion of Cr and Yb had no effect (P > 0.05) on nutrient flows at the duodenum, ileum and in faeces nor on microbial degradative activity, volatile fatty acid production and N metabolism in the rumen.
5. Polyester bag and in vitro studies showed that pre-labelling the dried grass with up to 285 mg Yb>g DM did not affect its susceptibility to microbial degradation.
6. The Yb in rumen, duodenal and ileal digesta was predominantly (> 90%) associated with the particulate matter but was not uniformly distributed and its concentration increased as particle size decreased.
7. The use of CrEDTA and Yb acetate as a dual-phase marker system proved more reliable in estimating ‘true’ duodenal flow than the use of the individual markers when the digesta sample was unrepresentative.