Apparent digestibility, fecal particle size, and mean retention time of reduced lignin alfalfa hay fed to horses

Amanda M. Grev, Marcia R. Hathaway, Craig C. Sheaffer, M. Scott Wells, Amanda S. Reiter, Krishona L. Martinson

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Reduced lignin alfalfa (Medicago sativa L.) has the potential to provide a higher-quality forage source for livestock by improving forage digestibility. This study was conducted to evaluate apparent digestibility when feeding reduced lignin and nonreduced lignin alfalfa hay to adult horses, and to examine mean fecal particle size (MFPS) and mean retention time (MRT) between alfalfa forage types. In 2017, reduced lignin ( g54HVX41 h) and nonreduced lignin ( gWL355.RR h) alfalfa hay was harvested in Minnesota at the late-bud stage. Alfalfa hays were similar in crude protein (CP; 199 g/kg), neutral detergent fiber (NDF; 433 g/kg), and digestible energy (2.4 Mcal/kg). Acid detergent lignin concentrations were lower for reduced lignin alfalfa hay (74 g/kg) compared to nonreduced lignin alfalfa hay (81 g/kg). Dietary treatments were fed to six adult, stocktype horses in a crossover study. Experimental periods consisted of a 9-d dietary adaptation phase followed by a 5-d total fecal collection phase, during which horses were housed in individual boxstalls and manure was removed on a continuous 24-h basis. At 12-h intervals, feces were thoroughly mixed, subsampled in duplicate, and used for apparent digestibility and MFPS analysis. On day 2 of the fecal collection phase, horses were fed two indigestible markers, cobalt (Co) and ytterbium (Yb), which were fed as Co-ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid and Yb-labeled NDF residue, respectively. Additional fecal samples were taken at 2-h intervals following marker dosing until 96-h post-dosing to evaluate digesta MRT. Data were analyzed using the MIXED procedure of SAS, with statistical significance set at P ≤0.05. Dietary treatment (i.e., alfalfa hay type) was included as a fixed effect, while experimental period and horse were considered random effects. Dietary treatments were similar in dry matter intake (1.6% bodyweight) and time to consumption (7.6 h). Apparent dry matter digestibility (DMD) was greater for reduced lignin alfalfa (64.4%) compared to nonreduced lignin alfalfa (61.7%). Apparent CP and NDF digestibility did not differ between dietary treatments, averaging 78% and 45%, respectively. Dietary treatments were similar in MFPS (0.89 mm) and MRT for both liquid (23.7 h) and solid (27.4 h) phase material. These results indicate an improvement in DMD for reduced lignin alfalfa hay when fed to adult horses, with no change in forage consumption, fecal particle size, or digesta retention time.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberskab158
JournalJournal of animal science
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 1 2021

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© The Author(s) 2021. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the American Society of Animal Science. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail:


  • alfalfa
  • digestibility
  • equine
  • fecal particle size
  • mean retention time
  • reduced lignin


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