NDF - Making Something Old, New Again

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Fiber digestibility and indigestibility are critical factors when assessing forage quality and formulating diets. Digestion characteristics of NDF influence feeding and rumination behavior, rate of particle breakdown, ruminal turnover and fill, dry matter intake, and overall efficiency of milk component output. Traditionally, nutritionists have focused on measures of NDF digestibility at specific timepoints and assumed that NDF was a relatively homogenous fraction. However, recently the focus has included indigestible fiber as well because of the recognition of its importance establishing the digestible portion or pool of NDF which leads to the extent of digestion and influences the rate(s) of fiber fermentation in the rumen. For purposes of nutritional modeling, indigestible NDF is required as the end point for fermentation to allow accurate estimation of the potentially digestible NDF fraction and its rate(s) of digestion. Measuring true NDF indigestibility would require infinite time, especially in aerobic systems, so in the actual rumen of a dairy cow or in an artificial rumen system, true indigestibility is never achieved. The standard nomenclature throughout the literature is “indigestible NDF (iNDF)” (Mertens, 1993; Huhtanen et al., 2006); however, to improve the accuracy of the standard terminology used to describe fiber fermentation dynamics, Mertens (2013) coined the term “undigested NDF (uNDF)” as the laboratory measure (typically in vitro or in situ) of indigestible NDF at a specified fermentation time. You will see both terms used, and for the most part, they are interchangeable as long as you know the method and time point used to determine the NDF digestion endpoint. However, moving forward, we will standardize our terminology to uNDF. To achieve iNDF requires estimations out to infinite time and that estimated residue might not be consistent with the interactive behavior of the forage and feed with rumen function.

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This information was presented the 2015 Herd Health and Nutrition Conference, organized by the PRO-DAIRY Program in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University. Softcover copies of the entire conference proceedings may be purchased at http:// or by calling (607) 255-4478.


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Dairy; Fiber Digestibility; NDF; uNDF; forage digestibility; indigestible fiber


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conference papers and proceedings

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