Influence of amount and frequency of protein supplementation to steers consuming low-quality, cool-season forage: intake, nutrient digestibility, and ruminal fermentation.
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This experiment evaluated the influence of protein supplementation frequency (SF) and amount offered on intake, nutrient digestibility, and ruminal fermentation by rumen-fistulated beef steers consuming low-quality [2.9% crude protein (CP); dry matter (DM) basis], cool-season forage. Seven Angus Hereford steers (300 27 kg) fitted with ruminal cannulas were randomly assigned to 1 of 7 treatments in an incomplete 7 4 Latin square. Treatments, in a 2 3 factorial design plus a non-supplemented control (CON), consisted of 2 levels of supplemental soybean meal, 100% (F) or 50% (H) of the estimated rumen-degradable protein requirement, provided daily (D), once every 5 d (5D), or once every 10 d (10D). Experimental periods were 30 d and dry matter intake (DMI) was measured from days 19 to 28. On days 21 (all supplements provided) and 30 (only daily supplements provided; day immediately prior to supplementation for 5D and 10D treatments) ruminal fluid was collected for ruminal pH, ammonia-N (NH3), volatile fatty acids (VFA), and determination of ruminal fermentation variables. Forage and total DM, organic matter (OM), and nitrogen (N) intake increased with supplementation (P 0.04). However, a linear effect of SF amount of supplement interaction was observed for forage and total DM, OM, and N intake (P 0.04), with each variable decreasing as SF decreased, but the decrease being greater with F vs. H. Apparent total tract DM, OM, and neutral detergent fiber digestibility was not affected by supplementation or amount of supplement provided (P 0.10). In contrast, N digestibility increased with supplementation and for F vs. H (P < 0.01). Digestibility of DM, OM, and N increased linearly as SF decreased (P 0.03). When all supplements were provided, ruminal NH3, total VFA, and molar proportions of all individual VFA increased with supplementation (P 0.04), whereas acetate:propionate ratio decreased (P < 0.01). When only daily supplements were provided, none of the aforementioned fermentation parameters were affected (P 0.09). In summary, reducing the amount of supplemental CP provided to ruminants consuming low-quality forages, when supplementation intervals are >5 d, can be a management tool to maintain acceptable levels of DMI, nutrient digestibility, and ruminal fermentation while reducing supplementation cost.