Theodoridou, K., Aufrère, J., Andueza, D., Pourrat, J., Le Morvan, A., Stringano, E., Mueller-Harvey, I., Baumont, R.

Abstract. This study focussed on effects of structure, content and biological activity of condensed tannins (CT) in leaves, stems and whole plant of sainfoin (Onobrychis viciifolia) on its in vivo and in situ digestive characteristics in sheep. Sainfoin was studied as fresh forage during the first vegetation cycle at two phenological stages (i.e., end of flowering and green seeds) and in the second vegetation cycle (i.e., start of flowering). The feeding experiment used 12 sheep; with six dosed, through the rumen cannula, with polyethylene glycol (PEG) to neutralise CT effects. Organic matter digestibility (OMD), total tract N disappearance and N balance were measured on the whole plant. The residues of dry matter (DM) and N from nylon bags suspended in the rumen were determined on leaves and stems. Intestinal digestibility was measured using other, intestine-fistulated sheep. PEG addition and vegetation cycle increased total tract N digestibility (P<0.001); but PEG affected OMD only at the end of flowering. PEG inactivated the CT and increased urinary N excretion (P<0.05); but this was offset by lower faecal N excretion (P<0.001). Feeding sainfoin can be used to alter the form of excreted N (i.e., urine versus faeces) and thus potentially reduce environmental N pollution without affecting body N retention. Kinetic studies of total N, ammonia N (NH3-N) and volatile fatty acids (VFA) in rumen fluid were made before and 1.5, 3 and 6 h after feeding. Sainfoin CT decreased rumen fluid soluble N (P<0.05) and NH3-N (P<0.01). Ruminal N degradability (DegN) of leaves or stems was lower in the presence of active CT compared to PEG-inactivated CT (P<0.001) for both vegetation cycles. PEG also increased intestinal digestibility (P<0.05) of leaves and stems. Leaves had lower ruminal DegN, but higher N disappearing from intestine than stems. The biological activity and content of CT in the whole plant decreased as phenological stage increased. Prodelphinidin:procyanidin (PD:PC) ratios of leaves varied vegetation cycle and phenological stage. The molecular size of CT in the whole plant, as indicated by their mean degree of polymerisation (mDP), was lowest at the start of flowering and coincided with the higher biological activity and content of CT.