Plant limitations to fiber digestion and utilization

Dwayne R. Buxton, Daren D. Redfearn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

169 Scopus citations


Energy availability from forages is limited by fiber concentration because fiber is slowly and incompletely digested, whereas cell solubles are almost completely digested. Thus, the proportion of fiber to cell solubles is a major determinant of energy availability in forages. Grasses normally have more fiber than legumes, especially in leaves. Grass fiber is more digestible than that of legumes, but that of legumes digests at a faster rate. Ruminants digest 40-50% of legume fiber and 60-70% of grass fiber. Some fiber cannot be digested no matter how long it remains in the rumen. Lignin is thought to interfere with microbial degradation of fiber polysaccharides by acting as a physical barrier and by being cross-linked to polysaccharides by ferulate bridges. In addition to the effects of lignin, physical and structural barriers may limit fiber digestibility. Because the middle lamella and primary wall of thick-walled cells are so highly lignified, many cells can be digested only from the interior of the cell. For many cells, access to cell interiors is limited because of large particle sizes. Forage digestibility could be improved by reducing the amount of lignified cells or by developing improved cultivars so that lignified cells are more digestible.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)814S-818S
JournalJournal of Nutrition
Issue number5 SUPPL.
StatePublished - 1997
Externally publishedYes


  • cell wall
  • digestible fiber
  • energy availability
  • lignin
  • structural barriers

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine (miscellaneous)
  • Nutrition and Dietetics


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