The use of n-alkane markers to estimate the intake and apparent digestibility of ryegrass and Kikuyu by horses

  • DM Stevens
  • JBJ Van Ryssen
  • JP Marais


The n-alkane marker (dosed marker, dotriacontane, C32, herbage markers C31, C33 and C35) technique was evaluated for use in feed intake and digestibility studies with horses. The mean retention time of digesta in the digestive tract was determined in horses following a single dose of C32. The n-alkane technique was then employed to estimate dry matter intake and digestibility in horses fed fresh perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne), fresh Kikuyu grass (Pennisetum clandestinum, Hochst) and Kikuyu hay. The mean retention time of the C32 marker in the horses was estimated to be 27.9 h. On average the C32 had a slightly greater faecal recovery of 0.89 than the odd-chain alkanes (0.80-0.85), though the differences were not significant. The alkane technique, using the n-alkane markers, gave good estimates of dry matter intake, e.g. for fresh ryegrass the measured intake was 8.86?0.23 kg and the estimated intakes from the C31:C32 ratio, 7.9?1.9 kg and from the C32:C33 ratio, 8.3?1.4 kg. However, the effect of the higher recovery of the dosed marker needs further investigation. The estimates of apparent dry matter digestibility corresponded well with measured values, provided the factor for the incomplete faecal recovery of the internal alkanes was included in the calculation. It was concluded that the alkane technique is suitable to estimate feed intake under grazing conditions. However, the proportion of dietary alkanes recovered in the faeces has to be known to obtain an accurate estimate of apparent digestibility. This would be a problem under grazing conditions when faecal grab samples are taken for measuring faecal alkane concentrations.

South African Journal of Animal Science Vol.32(1) 2002: 50-56

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eISSN: 2221-4062
print ISSN: 0375-1589