A study of the interactions between Holstein-Friesian genotypes and feeding systems, with emphasis on system performance and cow grazing ability : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Animal Science, Institute of Veterinary, Animal and Biomedical Sciences, Massey University, New Zealand
Imported genetic material of the Holstein-Friesian breed from overseas (OS), mainly from North America, has been used in New Zealand (NZ) since the late 1960's. This has diluted the genetic base of the former NZ Friesian genotype selected under intensive seasonal pasture-based systems. As a result, increased concerns have been raised about the negative influence of these overseas genes on the modern NZ Holstein- Friesian, as it is apparent that the OS Holstein-Friesian has a lower capacity to perform on grazed pasture. The objective of the present thesis was to investigate differences in production performance between three Holstein-Friesian genotypes farmed at different feed allowances (FA) on pasture-based systems; in addition, to investigate differences in the grazing process between strains under contrasting managements and sward conditions, and so to identify animal and pasture factors that affect the herbage intake (DMIH) and performance of the grazing cow. An accurate procedure was also established to estimate DMIH for cows fed forage and maize supplements, grazing in groups. Two modern high breeding worth (BW) Holstein-Friesian strains from NZ (NZ90) or overseas (OS90) origin and a low BW 1970's NZ Friesian genotype (NZ70) were farmed in two field experiments: (1) a long-term 'system' study that compared the yield performance of these genotypes in a range of systems with different feed allowance (FA) per cow, and a (2) a short-term 'component' study that compared the grazing capacity of the strains under contrasting sward conditions but at a common daily herbage allowance. The differences in productive performance between genotypes increased as the study progressed in the system study, with the largest observed in the last season. The mean milksolids (MS) yield per cow and per hectare were higher in NZ90 (395 kg cow-1 and 1,236 k ha-1) than in the NZ70 (336 kg cow-1 and 1,093 kg ha-1) and the OS90 (377 kg cow-1 and 1,154 kg ha-1). The higher production of NZ90 cows was supported by their higher mean daily MS yield than the NZ70 (1.45 vs. 1.21 kg MS cow-1 day-1) and more days in milk than OS90 cows (271 vs. 257 DIM). The lower lactation length of the OS90 strain occurred due to its lower body condition score (BCS) in late lactation, which determined an early dry-off for these cows. The lowest BCS of OS90 at the nadir (irrespective of FA), during lactation and at dry-off indicate these cows mobilised greater amount of body reserves and partitioned most of the energy ingested to yield. Genotype by FA interactions for milk and lactose yields, protein content in the milk and BCS were observed in the second and third seasons of the 'system' study. Milk yield increased as FA increased to a greater extent in OS90 than in the two NZ strains, whereas the content of solids in milk, particularly protein, increased to a greater extent for NZ90 than in both OS90 and NZ70. During lactation DMIH was higher for NZ90, intermediate in OS90 and lower in NZ70 (14.5, 13.9 and 12.6 kg DM cow-1 day-1 respectively for NZ90, OS90 and NZ70, as measured with nalkanes), and declined as lactation progressed, with a smaller difference for the total intake achieved (15.5, 15.2 and 13.1 kg DM cow-1 day-1 respectively) due to the increased supplement consumption. These results indicate that the OS90 needs more feed with a higher proportion of supplement in the diet to improve productive performance on pasture-based systems; the NZ90 would perform better when cow nutrition is mainly supported by grazing pasture, although further increments in performance could be expected from strategic supplementation, but requiring more feed than NZ70. The DMIH per unit of live weight (DMIH/LW) was highest in NZ90 strain in both the 'system' and in the short sward of the 'component' study (31.5 and 31.1 g DM kg-1 DM in NZ90 vs. 28.9 and 28.6 g DM kg-1 DM for OS90 in 'system' and 'component' studies respectively). The higher intake of NZ90 on pasture was sustained by a higher capacity to graze short swards than NZ70 and OS90, and to deal with the herbage of higher bulk density and lower quality present at the base of taller swards. The NZ90 can maintain DMIH in swards with different structures, indicating higher flexibility to perform under different managements and sward conditions. The size of the jaw is smaller in NZ90 than OS90 (88.4 vs. 92.4 mm) with effects on bite area and bite size, and this flexibility to adapt the size of the bite to swards of different structure may improve bite penetration under constraining sward conditions. The reduced ability of the OS90 to adjust ingestive behaviour to different swards would limit the capacity of this strain to perform on pasture. The fact that OS90 cows increased DMIH and DMIH/LW substantially in a leafy and taller sward (up to 21.6 kg cow-1 and 40.8 g DM kg-1Lw vs. 19.2 kg cow-1 and 41.0 g DM kg-1Lw in NZ90 during early lactation) suggests that yield performance can be improved in these cows even on pasture, by fine-tuning pasture management.