The objective of this study was to evaluate an interaction between harvest at 0600 (AM) vs. 1800 (PM) with high (HI) or low (LO) ruminal degradability of a protein supplement to change voluntary intake, digestion, or N retention by steers offered switchgrass (Panicum virgatum L.) hay. Black steers (255 +/- 14 kg of BW) were blocked by BW, and then randomly assigned (5 steers each) to AM/HI, PM/HI, AM/LO, or PM/LO treatment groups. Steers were group-housed in covered, outdoor pens with individual feeding gates. After adaptation and standardization, intake was measured for 21 d followed by a digestion trial (5 d of total collection). Steers were offered 767 (LO) or 825 (HI) g/d of supplement to provide 268 g of CP/d. Compared with AM, PM had greater (P = 0.01) concentrations of total nonstructural carbohydrate (TNC, 71 vs. 56 g/kg of DM), and lesser concentrations of NDF (760 vs. 770 g/kg of DM, P = 0.02), ADF (417 vs. 427 g/kg of DM, P = 0.02), and CP (55.9 vs. 58.6 g/ kg of DM, P = 0.07). Protein fractions A, B(2), and B(3) were similar for AM and PM, but HI contained more (P < 0.02) A (694 vs. 296 g/kg of protein) and less B(2) (174 vs. 554 g/kg of protein) fraction than LO. Harvest interacted with supplement to increase (P = 0.07) ad libitum digestible DMI for steers offered PM/HI (11.4 g/kg of BW daily) compared with steers offered PM/LO (10.2 g/kg of BW daily), but there was no difference for steers offered AM/LO or AM/HI (10.7 g/kg of BW). Apparent digestibilities of DM (594 vs. 571 g/kg of intake), NDF (591 vs. 562 g/kg of intake), ADF (585 vs. 566 g/kg of intake), and N (651 vs. 632 g/kg of intake) were greater (P < 0.04) for PM than for AM. Apparent digestibility of N was greater (P = 0.02) for HI (652 g/ kg of intake) vs. LO (631 g/kg of intake). Interactions between harvest and supplement for apparent digestibilities of NDF (P = 0.09) and ADF (P = 0.03) were due to no change or an increase in digestibility in response to increased ruminal degradability of supplement in steers offered PM harvest, whereas increased ruminal degradability of supplement decreased digestibility of NDF and ADF in steers offered AM harvest. Treatments did not affect hay intake (3.93 kg/d), N retained (15.8 g/d), or plasma urea N (5.25 mM) during ad libitum intake. Greater TNC in PM vs. AM harvest was not sufficient by itself to increase total voluntary DMI, but greater protein degradability interacted with harvest time to increase ruminal fiber digestibility and digestible DMI of beef steers offered PM vs. AM harvest.
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