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Digestibility and Retention Time of Coastal Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) Hay by Horses

Department of Animal Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Animals 2019, 9(12), 1148;
Received: 30 October 2019 / Revised: 11 December 2019 / Accepted: 13 December 2019 / Published: 14 December 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Horse Feeding and Management)
Longer retention of forages with increased fiber concentrations may be a compensatory digestive strategy in horses. We investigated the digestive characteristics of bermudagrass hay, a prominent warm-season grass in the southeast United States that has greater fiber concentrations than other common forages fed to horses. The morphological structure and photosynthetic pathway of warm-season grasses differ from cool-season grasses and legumes which may have important impacts on equine digestion and digesta transit through the gastrointestinal tract. The retention time of Coastal bermudagrass was longer than alfalfa or orchardgrass hay. The digestibility of Coastal bermudagrass decreased with increasing maturity, but the fiber digestibility of alfalfa and orchardgrass was similar to the earliest maturity of Coastal bermudagrass hay. The chemical composition of the plant cell wall influences diet digestibility and is a major difference between warm-season and cool-season forages. The increased retention time of Coastal bermudagrass allows for microbial fermentation to occur longer, adapting to more difficult-to-digest plant cell walls in warm-season forages. The decrease in diet digestibility when horses consume warm-season forages can be reduced by feeding early maturity forage, by harvesting hay at an earlier stage of growth or managing pastures in a vegetative state.
Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) and other warm-season grasses are known for their increased fiber concentrations and reduced digestibility relative to cool-season grasses and legumes. This study investigated the digestive characteristics and passage kinetics of three maturities of Coastal bermudagrass hay. A 5 × 5 Latin square design experiment was used to compare the digestion of five hays: alfalfa (Medicago sativa, ALF), orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata, ORCH), and Coastal bermudagrass harvested at 4 (CB 4), 6 (CB 6), and 8 weeks of regrowth (CB 8). Horses were fed cobalt-ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (Co-EDTA) and ytterbium (Yb) labeled neutral detergent fiber (NDF) before an 84-h total fecal collection to determine digesta retention time. Dry matter digestibility was greatest for ALF (62.1%) and least for CB 6 (36.0%) and CB 8 diets (36.8%, SEM = 2.1; p < 0.05). Mean retention time was longer (p < 0.05) for Coastal bermudagrass (particulate 31.3 h, liquid 25.3 h) compared with ORCH and ALF (28.0 h, SEM = 0.88 h; 20.7 h, SEM = 0.70 h). Further evaluation of digesta passage kinetics through mathematical modeling indicated ALF had distinct parameters compared to the other diets. Differences in digestive variables between forage types are likely a consequence of fiber physiochemical properties, warranting further investigation on forage fiber and digestive health. View Full-Text
Keywords: alfalfa; equine; fiber; forage maturity; mathematical modeling; mean retention time; orchardgrass; rate of passage; warm-season grass alfalfa; equine; fiber; forage maturity; mathematical modeling; mean retention time; orchardgrass; rate of passage; warm-season grass
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Hansen, T.L.; Chizek, E.L.; Zugay, O.K.; Miller, J.M.; Bobel, J.M.; Chouinard, J.W.; Adkin, A.M.; Skurupey, L.A.; Warren, L.K. Digestibility and Retention Time of Coastal Bermudagrass (Cynodon dactylon) Hay by Horses. Animals 2019, 9, 1148.

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