The nutritive value of Italian ryegrass (Lolium multiflorum) selected for high dry matter and nonstructural carbohydrate contents.
In traditional forage breeding programmes, breeders have spent decades improving the agronomic characteristics of grasses, such as herbage yield, persistence and resistance to diseases, without considering the nutrient requirements of the grazing animal. In an attempt to improve the nutritive value of Italian ryegrass, which is widely utilised for intensive dairy, lamb and beef production in South Africa, Enhancer ryegrass was developed from predominantly Italian types of Lolium multiflorum, with a minor Westerwolds component, by selecting for a higher concentration of total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC) and lower moisture content than that currently available in commercial cultivars. The nutritional value of Enhancer was compared with Midmar ryegrass in a controlled environment study and in a grazing trial with weaned lambs; and with Dargle ryegrass in a grazing trial with Holstein dairy cows. Neutral detergent fibre, acid detergent fibre, lignin, nitrogenous compounds, mineral content and in vitro digestibility were also investigated as parameters of nutritive value. The anatomical features of Enhancer and Midmar were studied to determine possible structural differences. Weaned lambs grazed Enhancer and Midmar in an eight-paddock rotational grazing system, with 3.5 days spent in each paddock, allowing a 24.5 day regrowth period for the pastures. Holstein dairy cows grazed Enhancer and Dargle which were established on 16 and 19 hectare pastures, respectively. The n-alkane technique was used to estimate dry matter intake (DMI) in both grazing trials. Results from the controlled environment study suggest that the differences in the dry matter and TNC concentration of Enhancer are not positively linked to anti-quality factors associated with forage species, but can be attributed to genetic differences between the two grasses. Despite the significantly higher (P < 0.01) DMI of weaned lambs grazing Midmar compared with Enhancer, the lambs on Enhancer outperformed those on Midmar in terms of liveweight gain and carcass quality. The superior animal performance on Enhancer is likely due to an improvement in the readily digestible energy to protein ratio as a result of its significantly higher (P < 0.001) concentration of TNC compared with Midmar. Milk yield for cows grazing Enhancer in period 1 of the cross-over study was significantly higher (P < 0.05) than for cows grazing Dargle, despite the significantly lower (P < 0.05) DMI of animals on Enhancer. The higher TNC concentration relative to the true protein content of Enhancer would suggest that the protein metabolism in the rumen can be enhanced.