Pelleted-hay alfalfa feed increases sheep wether weight gain and rumen bacterial richness over loose-hay alfalfa feed.

Ruminants, like sheep, goats, cows, deer, moose, etc.,  have a four-chambered stomach, the largest of which is called the rumen.  The rumen houses symbiotic microorganisms which break down plant fibers that the animal can’t digest on its own.  It’s estimated that up to 80% of a ruminant’s energy need is met from the volatile fatty acids (also called short-chain fatty acids) that bacteria produce from digesting fiber, and that up to 85% of a ruminant’s protein need is met from microbial proteins.

A lot of factors can be manipulated to help get the most out of one’s diet, including adjusting ingredients for water content, palatability, ease of chewing, and how easy the ingredients are to digest.  For example, highly fibrous foods with larger particles/pieces require more chewing, as well as a longer time spent in the rumen digesting so that microorganisms have plenty of time to break the chemical bonds of large molecules.  Smaller food particles can reduce the time and effort spent chewing, allow for more surface area on plant fibers for microorganisms to attach to and digest faster, and speed up the movement of food through the digestive tract.  On the other hand, moving food too quickly could reduce the amount of time microorganisms can spend digesting, or time the ruminant can absorb nutrients across their GI tract lumen, or cause slow-growing microbial species to wash out.

Surprisingly, almost no work has investigated the effect of diet particle size on the community, despite knowing that microbial digestion is contingent on the ability to attach to and process complex nutrient structures.  In this study, we observed the effect of particle size on rumen bacteria, by feeding long-stem (loose) alfalfa hay compared to a ground and pelleted version of the same alfalfa in yearling sheep wethers. 

The pelleted-hay diet group had a greater increase in bacterial richness, including common fibrolytic rumen inhabitants, which may explain the increase in average daily gain and feed efficiency in this group.

Fig 2. Observed bacterial richness (A) and Shannon diversity (B) in the rumen of wethers on loose-hay or pelleted-hay alfalfa diets. Significance was determined at p < 0.05, by linear mixed model for observed SVs and Conover test for Shannon diversity, with sheep ID as a fixed effect.
Fig 5. Discriminatory rumen bacterial sequence variance by treatment group for wethers receiving loose-hay or pelleted-hay alfalfa diet treatments.Significance (p < 0.05) determined by binomial test. 

Ishaq SL, Lachman MM, Wenner BA, Baeza A, Butler M, Gates E, et al. (2019) Pelleted-hay alfalfa feed increases sheep wether weight gain and rumen bacterial richness over loose-hay alfalfa feed. PLoS ONE 14(6): e0215797. Article.

Abstract

Diet composed of smaller particles can improve feed intake, digestibility, and animal growth or health, but in ruminant species can reduce rumination and buffering–the loss of which may inhibit fermentation and digestibility. However, the explicit effect of particle size on the rumen microbiota remains untested, despite their crucial role in digestion. We evaluated the effects of reduced particle size on rumen microbiota by feeding long-stem (loose) alfalfa hay compared to a ground and pelleted version of the same alfalfa in yearling sheep wethers during a two-week experimental period. In situ digestibility of the pelleted diet was greater at 48 h compared with loose hay; however, distribution of residual fecal particle sizes in sheep did not differ between the dietary treatments at any time point (day 7 or 14). Both average daily gain and feed efficiency were greater for the wethers consuming the pelleted diet. Observed bacterial richness was very low at the end of the adaptation period and increased over the course of the study, suggesting the rumen bacterial community was still in flux after two weeks of adaptation. The pelleted-hay diet group had a greater increase in bacterial richness, including common fibrolytic rumen inhabitants. The pelleted diet was positively associated with several Succiniclasticum, a Prevotella, and uncultured taxa in the Ruminococcaceae and Rickenellaceae families and Bacteroidales order. Pelleting an alfalfa hay diet for sheep does shift the rumen microbiome, though the interplay of diet particle size, retention and gastrointestinal transit time, microbial fermentative and hydrolytic activity, and host growth or health is still largely unexplored.

Feature image credit: Pellet Mill

An investigation into rumen fungal and protozoal diversity in three rumen fractions, during high-fiber or grain-induced sub-acute ruminal acidosis conditions, with or without active dry yeast supplementation. 

Ruminal acidosis is a condition in which the pH of the rumen is considerably lower than normal, and if severe enough can cause damage to the stomach and localized symptoms, or systemic illness in cows.  Often, these symptoms result from the low pH reducing the ability of microorganisms to ferment fiber, or by killing them outright.  Since the cow can’t break down most of its plant-based diet without these microorganisms, this disruption can cause all sorts of downstream health problems.  Negative health effects can also occur when the pH is somewhat lowered, or is lowered briefly but repeatedly, even if the cow isn’t showing outward clinical symptoms.  This is known as sub-acute ruminal acidosis(SARA), and can also cause serious side effects for cows and an economic loss for producers.

In livestock, acidosis usually occurs when ruminants are abruptly switched to a highly-fermentable diet- something with a lot of grain/starch that causes a dramatic increase in bacterial fermentation and a buildup of lactate in the rumen.  To prevent this, animals are transitioned incrementally from one diet to the next over a period of days or weeks.  Another strategy is to add something to the diet to help buffer rumen pH, such as a probiotic.  One of the most common species used to help treat or prevent acidosis is a yeast; Saccharomyces cerevisiae.

This paper was part of a larger study on S. cerevisiae use in cattle to treat SARA, the effects of which on animal production as well as bacterial diversity and functionality have already been published by an old friend and colleague of mine, Dr. Ousama AlZahal, and several others.

The main driver of fungal diversity was diet; moving from a high-fiber diet to a high-grain diet (Figure 1) triggered a change in available nutrients (more starch, less fiber), and decreased in rumen pH due to the byproducts related to microbial digestion of those nutrients.  Supplementation with active dry yeast only had minimal effect on fungal populations in the rumen, and did not help recover the fungal community found in healthy cows on a high-fiber diet.  Saccharomyces-related sequences all classified as S. cerevisiae, though to multiple strains, but were not found in >1% mean relative abundance in any treatment group or significantly more abundant in any group. Thus, it was unclear if the yeast supplement was actively part of the rumen fungal community.

PowerPoint Presentation
Figure 1. Relative abundance of rumen fungi genera for cows receiving a high fiber (HF) or high grain (HG) diet, with (Y) or without (C) yeast supplementation. Treatments include high-fiber control (HFC), high-fiber yeast (HFY), high-grain control (HGC), and high-grain yeast (HGY).

Similarly, diet was the major driver of protozoal diversity in the rumen (Figure 2), but there was also a small effect of the yeast supplementation.  Taxonomic diversity was also different between the high-fiber control (what the cows were before) and the high-grain yeast-supplemented group, indicating that yeast supplementation did not recover the initial protozoal community which healthy cows had.

PowerPoint Presentation
Figure 2. Relative abundance of rumen protozoal species for cows receiving a high fiber (HF) or high grain (HG) diet, with (Y) or without (C) yeast supplementation. Treatments include high-fiber control (HFC), high-fiber yeast (HFY), high-grain control (HGC), and high-grain yeast (HGY).

Another large difference was seen in the number and type of species found in three different locations within the rumen: those found in rumen fluid, those found attached to plant material (and presumably digesting it), and those found attached or associated with the rumen wall (epimural-associated).  In cows fed the high-grain diets, there were not enough fungi in the rumen fluid to generate enough sequences for comparison, and the high-grain diet tended to reduce the number of different species found in any location.  Fungal species richness was highest in plant-associated fractions, and there was surprisingly high species richness of fungi which were found along the rumen wall.  Protozoal species richness was likewise reduced by a switch to a high-grain diet, and was highest next to the rumen wall.


Ishaq, S.L., AlZahal, O., Walker, N., McBride, B. 2017. An investigation into rumen fungal and protozoal diversity in three rumen fractions, during high-fiber or grain-induced sub-acute ruminal acidosis conditions, with or without active dry yeast supplementation.  Frontiers in Microbiology 8:1943. Article.

Abstract

Sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA) is a gastrointestinal functional disorder in livestock characterized by low rumen pH, which reduces rumen function, microbial diversity, host performance, and host immune function. Dietary management is used to prevent SARA, often with yeast supplementation as a pH buffer. Almost nothing is known about the effect of SARA or yeast supplementation on ruminal protozoal and fungal diversity, despite their roles in fiber degradation. Dairy cows were switched from a high-fiber to high-grain diet abruptly to induce SARA, with and without active dry yeast (ADY, Saccharomyces cerevisiae) supplementation, and sampled from the rumen fluid, solids, and epimural fractions to determine microbial diversity using the protozoal 18S rRNA and the fungal ITS1 genes via Illumina MiSeq sequencing. Diet-induced SARA dramatically increased the number and abundance of rare fungal taxa, even in fluid fractions where total reads were very low, and reduced protozoal diversity. SARA selected for more lactic-acid utilizing taxa, and fewer fiber-degrading taxa. ADY treatment increased fungal richness (OTUs) but not diversity (Inverse Simpson, Shannon), but increased protozoal richness and diversity in some fractions. ADY treatment itself significantly (P < 0.05) affected the abundance of numerous fungal genera as seen in the high-fiber diet: Lewia, Neocallimastix, and Phoma were increased, while Alternaria, Candida Orpinomyces, and Piromyces spp. were decreased. Likewise, for protozoa, ADY itself increased Isotricha intestinalis but decreased Entodinium furca spp. Multivariate analyses showed diet type was most significant in driving diversity, followed by yeast treatment, for AMOVA, ANOSIM, and weighted UniFrac. Diet, ADY, and location were all significant factors for fungi (PERMANOVA, P = 0.0001, P = 0.0452, P = 0.0068, Monte Carlo correction, respectively, and location was a significant factor (P = 0.001, Monte Carlo correction) for protozoa. Diet-induced SARA shifts diversity of rumen fungi and protozoa and selects against fiber-degrading species. Supplementation with ADY mitigated this reduction in protozoa, presumptively by triggering microbial diversity shifts (as seen even in the high-fiber diet) that resulted in pH stabilization. ADY did not recover the initial community structure that was seen in pre-SARA conditions.


Ishaq, S.L.*, O. AlZahal, N. Walker, B. McBride. 2017. Modulation of sub-acute ruminal acidosis by active-dry yeast supplementation and its effect on rumen fungal and protozoal populations in liquid, solid, and epimural fractions.  Congress on Gastrointestinal Function, Chicago, IL, April 2017. (accepted talk).

 

Featured Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons