Milk production and nitrogen partitioning in dairy cows grazing standard and high sugar perennial ryegrass with and without white clover, during spring and autumn : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of requirements for the degree of Master of Applied Science in Animal Production at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Two field grazing experiments were conducted in New Zealand (NZ) in spring (Experiment 1; November 2008) and autumn (Experiment 2; April 2009) to evaluate the effects of feeding a high sugar perennial ryegrass (HSG; cv. AberDart; derived in the United Kingdom; UK) versus a NZ- derived control grass (cv. Impact) on milk production and estimated nitrogen (N) partitioning within the cow. Areas of both ryegrasses were replicated and sown with or without white clover (cl) (HSG+cl, control+cl, HSG and control). A cross-over design with four 10-day periods was used in each experiment, using 15 Friesian cows per treatment per period in Experiment 1 and 5 cows per treatment per period in Experiment 2. Treatment effects upon pasture botanical and chemical composition, cows’ milk yield and composition, and estimated N partitioning were studied. Nitrogen partitioning was calculated using indirect methods. Herbage concentrations of water soluble carbohydrates (WSC) were lower in autumn than in spring whilst crude protein (CP) concentrations were higher in autumn. Organic matter digestibility (OMD) and metabolisable energy (ME) concentration was similar in both seasons. There were no differences in the concentration of CP, WSC and dry matter (DM) among treatments in Experiment 1. The HSG+cl treatment had the lowest concentrations of neutral detergent fibre (NDF, 417 g/kg DM) and the highest content of ME (12.6 MJ/kg DM) and tended to have the lowest sward dead matter content compared with the other three treatments. In Experiment 2 both HSG treatments showed higher concentrations of WSC (15 g/kg DM) compared with the control, both with and without clover; the concentrations of NDF and acid detergent fibre (ADF) were the lowest for both HSG treatments. In Experiment 1, cows grazing treatments with white clover produced more milk (1.6 kg/day) and more milk solids (MS; 0.16 kg/day) than cows grazing pure ryegrass swards ( P< 0.01), with highest milk yields being from cows grazing the HSG+cl treatment (ryegrass cultivar x white clover interaction P<0.05). No differences in milk production were found in Experiment 2. Estimated urinary N excretion (g/day) was similar for all treatments in both seasons, although N intake differed among treatments. The proportion of N intake excreted in urine or secreted in milk was similar for all treatments in both experiments. Nitrogen output (g/day) in milk was the highest for the HSG+cl treatment in Experiment 1 but no differences were found in Experiment 2. Data were combined from both experiments to study the effects of the herbage CP:WSC ratio upon estimated N partitioning between milk and urine. Mean ratios were 0.72 for spring herbage and 2.27 for autumn herbage. As the amount of WSC increased in the diet relative to the amount of CP (thus a lower CP:WSC ratio) there was a significant increase in the amount of milk N secreted per unit of N intake in spring but not in autumn. The breakpoint in the relationship between the herbage CP:WSC ratio and the nitrogen utilisation efficiency for milk production (NUEm) was 1.32, and the NUEm for that breakpoint was 14 g milk N per 100 g N intake. Ratios below this point were associated with improved efficiency of converting pasture N to milk N; ratios above this point were not correlated with changes in N conversion efficiency. It is concluded that the CP:WSC ratio in perennial ryegrass may be important in the partition of absorbed N into milk or urine. A NZ-selected HSG with a lower CP:WSC ratio is likely to have major benefits for pastoral farming in NZ. In order to be effective, a NZ-derived HSG should substantially increase WSC concentration in autumn pasture (from approximately 100 to 200 g/kg DM) whilst reducing CP content simultaneously (from 240 to 190 g/kg DM). The lower structural fibre and higher milk production for the HSG+cl treatment in both experiments suggest that under NZ conditions, best productive responses to HSG may be obtained in management systems that include white clover.
Milk production, Dairy cattle, Nutrition, Nitrogen partitioning, Perennial ryegrass, White clover, Pasture