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The effect of varying proportion and chop length of lucerne silage in a maize silage-based total mixed ration on diet digestibility and milk yield in dairy cattle

  • A. L. Thomson (a1), D. J. Humphries (a1), A. K. Jones (a1) and C. K. Reynolds (a1)

Abstract

The objective was to assess the effects of inclusion rate and chop length of lucerne silage, when fed in a total mixed ration (TMR), on milk yield, dry matter (DM) intake (DMI) and digestion in dairy cows. Diets were formulated to contain a 50 : 50 ratio of forage : concentrate (DM basis) and to be isonitrogenous (170 g/kg CP). The forage portion of the offered diets was comprised of maize and lucerne silage in proportions (DM basis) of either 25 : 75 (high Lucerne (HL)) or 75 : 25 (low lucerne (LL)). Lucerne was harvested and conserved as silage at either a long (L) or short (S) chop length. These variables were combined in a 2×2 factorial arrangement to give four treatments (HLL, HLS, LLL, LLS) which were fed in a Latin square design study to Holstein dairy cows in two separate experiments. In total, 16 and 8 multiparous, mid-lactation cows were used in experiments 1 and 2, respectively. To ensure sufficient silage for both experiments, different cuts of lucerne silage (taken from the same sward) were used for each experiment: first cut for experiment 1 (which was of poorer quality) and second cut for experiment 2. Dry matter intake, milk yield and milk composition where measured in both experiments, and total tract digestibility and nitrogen (N) balance were assessed using four cows in experiment 2. In experiment 1, cows fed LL had increased DMI (+3.2 kg/day), compared with those fed HL. In contrast, there was no difference in DMI due to lucerne silage inclusion rate in experiment 2. A reduction in milk yield was observed with the HL treatment in both experiment 1 and 2 (−3.0 and −2.9 kg/day, respectively). The HL diet had reduced digestibility of DM and organic matter (OM) (−3% and −4%, respectively), and also reduced the efficiency of intake N conversion into milk N (−4%). The S chop length increased total tract digestibility of DM and OM (both +4%), regardless of inclusion rate. Inclusion of lucerne silage at 25% of forage DM increased milk yield relative to 75% inclusion, but a S chop length partially mitigated adverse effects of HL on DMI and milk yield in experiment 1 and on DM digestibility in experiment 2.

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