The study evaluated the rumen fermentation pattern, microbial population, fatty acid composition, and antioxidant status in the rumen fluid and blood of sheep in response to a diet supplemented with herbal blend (HB), sunflower seeds (SS), and a combination of both HB and SS (HBSS). The HB consisted of medicinal herbs typical for Central Europe. Four rumen fistulated rams were used in a 4 × 4 Latin square design and were fed a basal diet consisting of meadow hay (720 g dry matter (DM)/day) and barley grain (540 g DM/day) in the ratio of 60 : 40 and supplemented with no additive (Control), HB (10% replacement of meadow hay), SS (180 g DM/day), and HBSS (HB + SS). An increase in the molar proportion of iso-butyrate (P = 0.009) and iso-valerate (P = 0.034) was observed in the SS and HBSS diets as well as of ammonia N concentration in the HB, SS, and HBSS diets compared to control (P = 0.003). Concentrations of monounsaturated fatty acids of the HB, SS, and HBSS diets were increased (P = 0.041) compared to control, whereas concentrations of polyunsaturated fatty acids in the SS and HBSS diets were decreased (P = 0.023). Phagocytic activity in the blood was higher with all the diets vs control (P = 0.001). Qualitative evaluation of microbial population by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) and principal component analysis (PCA) revealed no effects of dietary treatments on the composition of both eubacterial and ciliated protozoal populations. However, in spite of the supplementation of forage-concentrate diet by HB in the presence of SS, no negative effects on the fermentation patterns and rumen microbial population have been detected.
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