Volatile Fatty Acid Production in Ruminants

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Virginia Tech

Volatile fatty acids (VFA) are important products of ruminal fermentation. The VFA are not only the major source of energy to the ruminant animals but also influence methane production in the rumen. Therefore it is important to understand mechanism controlling VFA production and to depict VFA production in a model. This will allow us to devise strategies to enhance energy utilization and reduce methane production in ruminant livestock. An evaluation of a mechanistic model in predicting VFA production was conducted and equations were introduced into the model to improve the predictions. Later a continuous culture experiment was conducted to test the hypothesis on which those equations were based on.

A mechanistic model -" Molly, was evaluated using a dataset with reported VFA production rates. The results of residual error analysis indicated that the root mean square prediction errors (RMSPE) were 63, 63, and 49% for acetate, propionate and butyrate, respectively. An assessment from two studies reporting VFA production revealed a potential of reducing errors of prediction by representing interconversion among VFA. In the second study, equations based on thermodynamics influence of pH and VFA concentration were introduced in the model to represent interconversion among VFA. The parameters for de novo VFA production and VFA absorption were re derived with (VFAInt) and without (BASE) the new interconversion equations. There were some improvements in the VFA concentration predictions but the improvements were both in VFAInt and BASE models. The RMSPE of VFA production were still above 50% for acetate, propionate and butyrate. The larger errors of predictions were attributed to measurement variation in VFA production literature, or possible incorrect rate constants for interconversion equations.

Finally, a third study was conducted to assess the effect of pH, and VFA concentration on VFA and methane production in continuous culture. The treatments consisted of control, 20 mmol/d acetate infusion (INFAC), 7 mmol/d propionate infusion (INFPR), and low pH (LOWPH). Individual isotopes of acetate, propionate and butyrate were infused in the fermenters to estimate interconversions among VFA. With LOWPH treatment methane emission was reduced whereas production of propionate was increased. Hydrogen production was higher in INFAC indicating that some of the acetate could have been degraded to CO2 and H2. It was estimated that around 3 % of de novo acetate was converted to propionate and 9 % to butyrate. Exchange between propionate and butyrate was insignificant and below 1% of de novo production of either VFA. However, treatments did not affect interconversion rates among VFA. These results indicated that pH and VFA concentration do not have thermodynamic influence on VFA interconversion as hypothesized.

volatile fatty acids, rumen, methane, thermodynamics