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Meta-analysis of the impact of stocking rate on the productivity of pasture-based milk production systems

  • B. McCarthy (a1) (a2), L. Delaby (a3), K. M. Pierce (a2), F. Journot (a1) and B. Horan (a1)...


The objective of this study is to quantify the milk production response per cow and per hectare (ha) for an incremental stocking rate (SR) change, based on a meta-analysis of published research papers. Suitable experiments for inclusion in the database required a comparison of at least two SRs under the same experimental conditions in addition to details on experimental length and milk production results per cow and per ha. Each additional increased SR treatment was also described in terms of the relative milk production change per cow and per ha compared to the lower base SR (b_SR). A database containing 109 experiments of various lengths with 131 comparisons of SR was sub-divided into Type I experiments (common experimental lengths) and Type II experiments (variable experimental lengths). Actual and proportional changes in milk production according to SR change were analysed using linear mixed model procedures with study included as a random effect in the model. Low residual standard errors indicated a good precision of the predictive equations with the exception of proportional change in milk production per cow. For all milk yield variables analysed, the results illustrate that while production per cow is reduced, a strong positive relationship exists between SR and milk production per ha. An SR increase of one cow/ha resulted in a decrease in daily milk yield per cow of 7.4% and 8.7% for Type I and Type II data, respectively, whereas milk yield per ha increased by 20.1% and 19.6%, respectively. Within the Type II data set, a one cow/ha increase in SR also resulted in a 15.1% reduction in lactation length (equivalent to 42 days). The low predictability of proportional change in milk production per cow according to the classical SR definition of cows per ha over a defined period suggests that SR may be more appropriately defined in terms of the change in available feed offered per animal within each treatment.


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