The objectives of this study were to determine the proportion of indigestible neutral detergent fibre (iNDF) in the neutral detergent fibre (NDF) fraction of sugarcane, to estimate changes in NDF digestibility (NDFD) during the harvesting window and to predict sugarcane digestibility based on its fibre fractions. Whole plants of the IAC86-2480 and IAC93-3046 varieties were collected during the harvesting windows in 2007 and 2009, respectively. The in vitro true dry matter digestibility (IVTDMD) and fibre contents (NDF, iNDF, acid detergent fibre) were determined by near infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIRS). The NDFD and potentially digestible NDF digestibility (pdNDFD) were estimated, and the fractional digestion rate of pdNDF was calculated. There was no relationship between growing days and iNDF as a proportion of NDF (P = 0·28) or with the fractional digestion rate of pdNDF (P = 0·30). Therefore, NDFD (mean = 335 g kg−1) and pdNDFD (mean = 657 g kg−1) remained almost constant during the harvesting window (P = 0·70 and P = 0·32 respectively). Acid detergent fibre and NDF were the best predictors of sugarcane dry matter (DM) digestibility. In conclusion, NDFD seems to be unchanged during crop growth. The point at which to harvest sugarcane as a forage source should therefore be decided based on NDF concentration, which is greatly influenced by sucrose accumulation.