, Volume 53, Issue 5, pp 387-395
Date: 16 Apr 2009

Influence of different periods of exposure to hot environment on rumen function and diet digestibility in sheep

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Effects of different periods of exposure to hot environments on rumen function, diet digestibility and digesta passage rate were studied in four adult not-pregnant Sardinian ewes housed in a climatic chamber. The ewes were kept in individual metabolic cages. The trial lasted 83 days; 17 days were spent under thermal comfort conditions (TC) [temperature-humidity index (THI) = 65.0 ± 2.0], followed by 49 days under elevated THI (ETHI: THI = 82.0 ± 2.5) and 17 days under thermal comfort (TC; THI = 65.0 ± 1.0). Five digestibility and passage rate trials were carried out during the 83 days. Trials 1 and 5 were carried out under TC; trials 2, 3 and 4 were carried out under ETHI. Values of rectal temperatures (39.7 ± 0.3°C) and respiratory rate (118.4 ± 31.8 breaths/min) indicated that sheep under ETHI were heat-stressed. Heat stress caused an increase (P < 0.01) in water intake, and reductions (P < 0.05) in dry matter intake, rumen pH, rumen cellulolytic and amylolytic bacteria count, rumen osmolarity, organic matter, dry matter, neutral detergent fibre, acid detergent fibre and non-structural carbohydrates digestibility coefficients, and a reduction of digesta passage rates. Under ETHI, diet digestibility and passage rate of digesta were reduced in a time-dependent fashion. Variation of diet digestibility under ETHI was not related to passage rate of digesta and feed intake. Reduction of cellulolytic and amylolytic bacteria and the adaptive response to hot environment seem to be related to alteration of digestibility observed in ewes chronically exposed to hot environment.