In vitro neutral detergent fiber (NDF) digestibility (NDFD) is an empirical measurement of fiber fermentability by rumen microbes. Variation is inherent in all assays and may be increased as multiple steps or differing procedures are used to assess an empirical measure. The main objective of this study was to evaluate variability within and among laboratories of 30-h NDFD values analyzed in repeated runs. Subsamples of alfalfa (n=4), corn forage (n=5), and grass (n=5) ground to pass a 6-mm screen passed a test for homogeneity. The 14 samples were sent to 10 laboratories on 3 occasions over 12 mo. Laboratories ground the samples and ran 1 to 3 replicates of each sample within fermentation run and analyzed 2 or 3 sets of samples. Laboratories used 1 of 2 NDFD procedures: 8 labs used procedures related to the 1970 Goering and Van Soest (GVS) procedure using fermentation vessels or filter bags, and 2 used a procedure with preincubated inoculum (PInc). Means and standard deviations (SD) of sample replicates within run within laboratory (lab) were evaluated with a statistical model that included lab, run within lab, sample, and lab × sample interaction as factors. All factors affected mean values for 30-h NDFD. The lab × sample effect suggests against a simple lab bias in mean values. The SD ranged from 0.49 to 3.37% NDFD and were influenced by lab and run within lab. The GVS procedure gave greater NDFD values than PInc, with an average difference across all samples of 17% NDFD. Because of the differences between GVS and PInc, we recommend using results in contexts appropriate to each procedure. The 95% probability limits for within-lab repeatability and among-lab reproducibility for GVS mean values were 10.2 and 13.4%, respectively. These percentages describe the span of the range around the mean into which 95% of analytical results for a sample fall for values generated within a lab and among labs. This degree of precision was supported in that the average maximum difference between samples that were not declared different by means separation was 4.4% NDFD. Although the values did not have great precision, GVS labs were able to reliably rank sample data in order of 30-h NDFD (Spearman correlation coefficient = 0.93) with 80% of the rankings correct or off by only 1 ranking. A relative ranking system for NDFD could reduce the effect of within- and among-lab variation in numeric values. Such a system could give a more accurate portrayal of the comparative values of samples than current numeric values imply.
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