Dietary crude protein and nitrogen utilisation in two contrasting dairy systems : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Animal Science, School of Agriculture and Environment, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This thesis evaluated the efficiency of crude protein utilisation (ECPU) in dairy cows and nitrogen (N) utilisation efficiency (NUE) of two pasture-based dairy systems differing in intensification levels in New Zealand. During two consecutive seasons, in the low-intensity production system (LIPS), 257 cows were milked once-daily with low supplementation, and in the high-intensity production system (HIPS), 210 cows were milked twice-daily with higher supplementation. At every herd test, ECPU was calculated as protein yield (PY) divided by crude protein intake (CPI), estimated from feed intake. Milk urea (MU) was measured in early-, mid-, and late-lactation. Urinary N was estimated by back-calculation from estimated faecal N, taking into consideration N contained in milk and in body tissues. Pasture allocation represented 93% and 65% of the total intake for LIPS and HIPS cows, respectively, resulting in higher CPI for LIPS cows throughout the lactation. Compared to HIPS cows, LIPS cows produced 22% and 16% less milk and protein, with 32% higher MU, and 25% lower ECPU. Urine N was 34% higher in LIPS cows but faecal N was 5% higher for HIPS cows. A multivariate predictive model of ECPU was developed, including milk production performance, live weight variation, diet composition and quality along with climatic variables. The model accurately predicted the ECPU in an internal validation dataset (RPE = 6.96%, R2 = 0.95). Milk urea was not selected as a predictive variable of ECPU, considering that cows of higher ECPU also had higher MU. Compared with cows of high MU genetic merit, cows of lower MU genetic merit had lower milk production and similar ECPU. A whole-farm assessment of NUE, N losses and financial analysis was undertaken. On whole-farm level, LIPS produced 23% less milk and NUE was 31% lower when compared to HIPS. The lower MY along with the 35% higher N fertiliser applied on LIPS produced a higher N surplus per ha causing higher N losses when compared to HIPS. Despite the higher feed costs of HIPS, profitability was 16% higher because of milking more cows with higher MY when compared to LIPS.