The Effects of Dietary Urea on Microbial Populations in the Rumen of Sheep

  • Kanjanapruthipong, J. (Department of Animal Science, Kasetsart University) ;
  • Leng, R.A. (Department of Animal Science, University of New England-Armidale)
  • Received : 1998.01.12
  • Accepted : 1998.04.13
  • Published : 1998.12.01


Two experiments were conducted to examine the effects of a range of concentrations of ruminal fluid ammonia ($NH_3$-N) on forage digestibility, microbial growth efficiency and the mix of microbial species. Urea was either continuously infused directly into the rumen of sheep fed 33.3 glh of oaten chaff (Exp. I) or sprayed onto the oaten chaff (750 g/d) given once daily (Exp. 2). Concentrations of $NH_3$-N increased with incremental addition of urea (p < 0.01). Volatile fatty acids (VFA) concentrations and 24 h in sacco organic matter digestibility in the rumen were higher when supplemental urea was given (p < 0.01). The (C2 + C4) : C3 VFA ratio was lower (p < 0.05) when $NH_3$-N was above 200 mgN/I. The fungal sporangia appearing on oat leaf blades were significantly higher when urea was supplemented, indicating that $NH_3$-N was a growthlimiting nutrient for fungi at levels of $NH_3$-N below 30 mgN/l. The density of protozoa was highest when $NH_3$-N concentrations were adjusted to 30 mgN/I for continuously fed ($4.4{\times}10^5/ml$) and to 168 mgN/1 for once daily feeding ($2.9{\times}10^5/ml$). Thereafter increasing concentrations of $NH_3$-N, were associated with a concomitant decline in protozoal densities. At the concentration of $NH_3$-N above 200 mgN/l, the density of protozoa was similar to the density of protozoa in ruminal fluid of the control sheep ($1.8{\times}10^5/ml$). The efficiency of net microbial protein synthesis in the rumen calculated from purine excretion was 17-47% higher when the level of $NH_3$-N was above 200 mgN/1. The possibilities are that 1) there is less bacterial cell lysis in the rumen because of the concomitant decrease in the protozoal pool and/or 2) microbial growth per se in the rumen is more efficient with increasing $NH_3$-N concentrations.


Ammonia;Urea;Microbial Growth;Rumen;Purine Derivatives

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