1. The primary growth of perennial ryegrass (Lolium perenne cultivar Endura) was cut on 23 May (high digestibility) and 23 June (low digestibility) and ensiled with an additive consisting of equal volumes of formic acid and formalin to supply 30 g formaldehyde per kg crude protein. The silages were given ad libitum, together with 6·3 kg dry matter per day of a barley/soya bean supplement, to 24 British Friesian cows over weeks 4 to 18 of lactation.
2. The delay in cutting the primary growth led to an increase in grass yield from 3·78 to 6·94t dry matter per ha but a depression in the content of digestible organic matter in the silage dry matter from 748 to 639 g/kg. However, the effect of the digestibility of the silage on the digestibility of the total diet by the cows was small. The silages contained low levels of fermentation acids and ammonia-nitrogen.
3. The digestibility of silage did not influence silage dry-matter intake in early lactation but in mid lactation the intake of the low-digestibility silage declined whilst that of the high-digestibility silage increased slightly.
4. Cows given silage of high rather than low digestibility produced significantly more milk (high, 28·0 v. low, 24·7kg/day, P < 0·01 ) of lower fat content (high, 36·1 v. low, 41·0 g/kg, P < 0·01 ) but higher protein content (high, 31·5 v. low, 29·4g/kg, P < 0·05). Cows given silage of low digestibility lost more live weight than cows given silage of high digestibility but the effect was not significant.