Effects of Moringa oleifera leaves as a substitute for alfalfa meal on nutrient digestibility, growth performance, carcass trait, meat quality, antioxidant capacity and biochemical parameters of rabbits

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In South China, rearing of rabbit, beef and mutton is becoming expensive due to the lack of high‐quality green forages, which are mainly used for herbivorous livestock. Exploring a new forage cultivar for rabbit and ruminant farming is very important and necessary.
The utilization of tree parts as alternative feed resources for herbivorous livestock is increasing in many areas of the tropics and subtropics (Silanikove, 2000). Moringa oleifera Lamarck, also known as ben oil or drumstick tree, is widely cultivated in Africa, Central and South America, Southwest and Southeast Asia (Saalu et al., 2011). The crude protein (CP) content of M. oleifera leaves, soft twigs and stems are 260, 70 and 60 g per kg respectively. And the leaves have a percentage of true protein at approximately 87% in relation to 60% and 53% in twigs and stems separately (Makkar and Becker, 1996). Moringa oleifera leaves are most used part of the plant, and several bioactive compounds have found in the leaves, including vitamins, carotenoids, polyphenol, phenolic acids, flavonoids, alkaloids, saponins (Leone et al., 2015). Moringa oleifera leaves act as a valuable nutrient for people of all ages and are used to treat malnutrition in some parts of Africa (Price, 1985). It was also reported that M. oleifera leaves could prevent morphological changes and oxidative damage in human and animals (Sreelather and Padma, 2009; Osman et al., 2012) and promote the immune system against infections (Jaiswal et al., 2009), and its extracts have positive impacts on haematological parameters of rabbits (Chinwe and Isitua, 2010).
Previous studies have reported the utilization of M. oleifera leaves as a feed in livestock such as cattle (Sánchez et al., 2006; Nouala et al., 2009; Mendieta et al., 2011), goat (Moyo et al., 2012a,b), sheep (Babiker et al., 2016), rabbit (Aboh et al., 2012; El‐Badawi et al., 2014; Abubakar et al., 2015), chicken (Ayssiwede et al., 2011; Hassan et al., 2016) and pig (Tedonkeng et al., 2005). These studies consistently regarded M. oleifera leaves as a good forage which was rich in nutrients and few anti‐nutritional factors. However, there are different results on the usage amount of M. oleifera leaves and dearth of information on the effect of livestock meat quality and the nutrient digestibility of M. oleifera leaves. Thus, the purpose of the present study was to assess the effects of M. oleifera leaves substitute for alfalfa meal proportionally on nutrient digestibility, growth performance, carcass trait, meat quality, antioxidant capacity and biochemical parameters of rabbits.
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