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Journal of Animal Science Abstract -

Effects of alfalfa root saponins on digestive function in sheep.


This article in

  1. Vol. 74 No. 5, p. 1144-1156


  1. P T Klita,
  2. G W Mathison,
  3. T W Fenton and
  4. R T Hardin
  1. Department of Agricultural, Food and Nutritional Science, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada.


The effects of alfalfa saponins on ruminal pH and VFA concentrations, protozoal numbers, forestomach motility, and digesta flow from the rumen were examined in this experiment. In a preliminary study, either 800 or 1600 mg/kg of saponins per kg BW were administered intraruminally in a single dose to one of two 60-kg wethers. Ruminal contractions were suppressed within 15 min. The study was terminated when one wether didn't recover. Saponins were then administered intraruminally in two equal doses daily into four ruminally and duodenally cannulated wethers (60 +/- 1 kg) in amounts equivalent to 0, 200, 400, and 800 mg/kg BW daily in a 4 x 4 Latin Square arrangement. Saponins increased VFA concentrations (P = .001) and lowered ruminal pH (P = .001) after 2 d of administration. On d 2 and d 14, saponins decreased (P < .01) protozoal populations. On d 11, pressure changes during ruminal contractions increased by 79% during resting (P = .06), 202% during feeding (P = .05), and 53% during an 8-h period (P = .08) as the level of saponins increased from 0 to 800 mg/kg BW. Administered saponins increased duodenal flows of OM and total N by 19 and 26%, respectively (P = .04 and .01). Apparent total tract N digestibility was reduced (P = .02) by 5% at the highest saponin dosage. We conclude that alfalfa may contain enough saponins to adversely impact ruminoreticular motility. Saponins also caused decreased ruminal protozoal populations, increased flow of total duodenal N, and reduced ruminal and total tract apparent digestibilities.

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