This study evaluated common vetch stover as a feed in mixed rations for growing lambs. Four common vetch varieties were compared with alfalfa (control) for their effects on growth performance, ruminal fermentation, nutrient digestibility, and nitrogen retention. Male Hu lambs (n
= 50) aged 3 months, with a mean body weight of 17.5 ± 0.34 kg were allocated randomly to one of the five dietary treatments, making 10 lambs per treatment. The experiment lasted 67 days with a 10-day adaptation period and a 50-day fattening period, and with the final 7 days used for a nutrient digestibility and nitrogen balance trial. All diets contained 30.0% maize straw and 50.0% concentrate, with different forage sources (on a fed basis): 20.0% alfalfa hay (control), 20.0% local common vetch variety 333A (C333A) stover, or 20.0% stover of one of three improved common vetch varieties: Lanjian No. 1 (CLJ1), Lanjian No. 2 (CLJ2), or Lanjian No. 3 (CLJ3). For stover quality, CLJ1 stover had the greatest crude protein (CP), in vitro organic matter digestibility (IVOMD), and metabolizable energy (ME) content and the least cell wall contents, while C333A stover had the least CP, IVOMD, and ME contents and the greatest cell wall contents. Sheep fed the control diet had a greater average daily gain (ADG), apparent digestibility of organic matter (DOM), neutral detergent fiber, acid detergent fiber, and nitrogen retention, and greater ruminal total volatile fatty acids concentration than lambs fed the C333A or CLJ3 diet, but similar performance to lambs fed the CLJ1 and CLJ2 diets. The feed conversion ratio and predicted CH4
emission per unit of DOM intake and ADG of the control, CLJ1, and CLJ2 diets was significantly lower (p
< 0.05) than for the other diets. Based on these results, stovers of varieties CLJ1 and CLJ2 can be recommended as an alternative to alfalfa hay and for use in a legume crop rotation with cereals on the Tibetan plateau.
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