The effect of dietary nitrogen on nitrogen partitioning and milk production in grazing dairy cows : A thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the Master of Animal Science at Massey University Palmerston North, New Zealand

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Two experiments were conducted during spring (8th October to 12th November 2009) as part of a larger study, to study the effects of increasing levels of crude protein (CP) in pasture on milk production, dry matter intake (DMI) and nitrogen (N) partitioning in dairy cows. The first experiment was undertaken over 25 days (8th October to 1st November 2009), where fifteen multiparous, rumen fistulated, early lactation Holstein-Friesian cows (505 ± 10.4 kg liveweight; 4.1 body condition score ± 0.044, mean ± standard deviation) were assigned to one of three urea supplementation treatments: Control (0 g/day urea; ~20% CP), Medium (350 g/day urea; ~25% CP) and High (690 g/day urea: ~30% CP). Urea was supplemented to the pasture-based diet to increase CP content while maintaining similar concentrations of all other nutrients across treatments. All cows were offered ~20 kg dry matter (DM)/day perennial ryegrass-based pasture (CP = 20.6 ± 0.56% DM; metabolisable energy (ME) = 11.8 ± 0.06 MJ/kg DM). Cows were acclimated to their urea treatment over a 25 day experimental period. The objective of this study was to determine the effect of increased dietary CP in grazing cows on DMI and milk yield. Dry matter intake was estimated using a back calculation method from the energy requirements of the cows. The results indicate a complex interaction between DMI, milk yield and urea intake. As dietary CP increased, the milk yield increased; however, as urea’s contribution to total dietary CP concentration increased, the increase in both DMI and milk yield was less. Milk yield decreased when urea supplementation increased beyond 350 g/day, and the interaction evident in milk yield was mirrored in yields of fat, CP and lactose (P <0.001). The addition of urea had no effect on milk fat, protein and lactose percentages. The second experiment was conducted over 22 days (22nd October to 12th November 2009), involving ten multiparous, rumen fistulated, early lactation Holstein-Friesian cows (520 ± 5.6 kg liveweight; 4.15 body condition score ± 0.078, mean ± standard deviation). This experiment was undertaken to study N partitioning in pasture-fed grazing dairy cows using urea supplementation as a non-protein N (NPN) model to ensure all other nutritional characteristics of the forage remained the same. All cows were offered ~19 kg DM/day of perennial ryegrass-based pasture (CP = 18.4 ± 0.64% DM; ME = 11.4 ± 0.06 MJ/kg DM). Cows were assigned to one of two experimental groups: Control (0 g/day urea; ~18% CP), and a Urea supplemented group (350 g/day urea; ~23% CP). Cows were acclimated to the diets and metabolism stalls for 14 days, and a further 7 days were used for total collection of urine, faeces and milk. Increasing dietary CP content had no effect on DMI, milk yield, milk composition, and faecal N. Urinary urea N (UUN) and urine N yield and concentrations increased as dietary CP content increased however, urinary creatinine, ammonia (NH3), calcium and magnesium were not affected. Rumen urea and NH3 concentrations were increased as CP content increased. Milk urea N showed trends for linear responses to increasing N intake (P <0.001, R2 = 0.47). A 16.5% increase in N intake resulted in a 42.5% increase in milk urea nitrogen (MUN) concentration; however, the relationship was restricted to low MUN concentrations. Urinary N increased linearly as a result of N intake, although the relationship was restricted due to the underestimation of urinary N and the limited range of N intake values. The 28% increase in urinary N excretion resulted from a sharp 3.6% decline in N efficiency as dietary N content increased. The main conclusions of this thesis were the ability for excessive urea intake to reduce milk yield in grazing dairy cows. Further research is needed to determine if high soluble NPN concentrations in fresh pasture would affect DMI and milk yield in the same way. Increasing N intake results in linear increases in MUN, urinary N and UUN. These relationships could provide useful tools to predict urinary N excretion due to the strong relationships between these variables. Further research is needed to develop robust prediction equations for the relationships between these variables in grazing dairy cows before they could be used as regulatory tools.
Research Subject Categories::FORESTRY, AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES and LANDSCAPE PLANNING::Animal production::Animal nutrition and management