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Symposium review: Technologies for improving fiber utilization

ABSTRACTThe forage lignocellulosic complex is one of the greatest limitations to utilization of the nutrients and energy in fiber. Consequently, several technologies have been developed to increase forage fiber utilization by dairy cows. Physical or mechanical processing techniques reduce forage particle size and gut fill and thereby increase intake. Such techniques increase the surface area for microbial colonization and may increase fiber utilization. Genetic technologies such as brown-midrib mutants (BMR) with less lignin have been among the most repeatable and practical strategies to increase fiber utilization. Newer BMR corn hybrids are better yielding than the early hybrids and recent brachytic dwarf BMR sorghum hybrids avoid lodging problems of early hybrids. Several alkalis have been effective at increasing fiber digestibility. Among these, ammoniation has the added benefit of increasing the nitrogen concentration of the forage. However, few of these have been widely adopted due to the cost and the caustic nature of the chemicals. Urea treatment is more benign but requires sufficient urease and moisture for efficacy. Ammonia-fiber expansion technology uses high temperature, moisture, and pressure to degrade lignocellulose to a greater extent than ammoniation alone, but it occurs in reactors and is therefore not currently usable on farms. Biological technologies for increasing fiber utilization such as application of exogenous fibrolytic enzymes, live yeasts, and yeast culture have had equivocal effects on forage fiber digestion in individual studies, but recent meta-analyses indicate that their overall effects are positive. Nonhydrolytic expansin-like proteins act in synergy with fibrolytic enzymes to increase fiber digestion beyond that achieved by the enzyme alone due to their ability to expand cellulose microfibrils allowing greater enzyme penetration of the cell wall matrix. White-rot fungi are perhaps the biological agents with the greatest potential for lignocellulose deconstruction, but they require aerobic conditions and several strains degrade easily digestible carbohydrates. Less ruminant nutrition research has been conducted on brown rot fungi that deconstruct lignocellulose by generating highly destructive hydroxyl radicals via the Fenton reaction. More research is needed to increase the repeatability, efficacy, cost effectiveness, and on-farm applicability of technologies for increasing fiber utilization.

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