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Two experiments were conducted with sheep fed on fresh Lotus pedunculatus containing 50–55 g condensed tannin (CT)/kg dry matter. Effects of CT were assessed by comparing control sheep (CT operating) with sheep receiving a continuous intraruminal infusion of polyethylene glycol (PEG) to bind and inactivate CT. Digestion of methionine and cystine was determined using a continuous intraruminal infusion of indigestible markers, whilst plasma irreversible loss (IRL) of methionine, cystine and inorganic sulphate was determined using 35S labelling. The proportion of microbial non-NH3-N (NAN) in whole rumen digesta NAN and the IRL of reducible S from the rumen were determined using a continuous intraruminal infusion of (NH4)235SO4. The proportion of microbial NAN in whole rumen digesta NAN (0·44 v. 0·71) and the IRL of reducible S from the rumen (0·84 v. 2·49 g S/d) were lower in control than PEG sheep. PEG sheep lost 30% of ingested methionine and cystine across the rumen, whereas the control sheep lost no methionine and cystine across the rumen. Apparent absorption of methionine from the small intestine was 27% higher in control than PEG sheep, but both groups had a similar apparent absorption of cystine. The apparent digestibility of cystine in the small intestine was lower in control (0·42) than PEG (0·53) sheep, whereas the apparent digestibility of methionine was similar (0·78) for both groups. CT had no effect on plasma methionine IRL, but markedly increased the IRL of cystine (39·8 v. 22·4 μmol/min) and reduced the IRL of plasma inorganic sulphate (35·9 v. 50·2 μmol/min). A three-pool model comparing interconversions between the three plasma metabolites showed that CT increased the flow of cystine to body synthetic reactions (36·5 v. 17·3 μmol/min). This was due to trans-sulphuration of methionine to cystine being greater in control than in PEG sheep, whilst the oxidation of both methionine and cystine were reduced in control sheep. It was concluded that CT reduced the proteolysis of forage protein and the degradation of S amino acids to inorganic sulphide in the rumen, resulting in increased net absorption of methionine and increased utilization of cystine for body synthetic reactions in sheep with a high capacity for wool growth (and, hence, high cystine requirement).
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