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Effects on feed intake, milk production, and methane emission in dairy cows fed silage or fresh grass with concentrate or fresh grass harvested at early or late maturity stage without concentrate

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The objective of the study was to quantify the effects on dry matter intake (DMI), nutrient digestibility, gas exchange, milk production, and milk quality in dairy cows fed fresh grass harvested at different maturity stages. Sixteen Danish Holstein cows in mid-lactation were divided into 4 blocks and used in 4 incomplete 4 × 2 Latin squares with 2 periods of 21 d. The cows received 1 of 4 treatments in each period, resulting in 8 cows per treatment, as follows: grass-clover silage supplemented with 6 kg/d concentrate pellets (SILc), fresh grass harvested at late maturity stage supplemented with 6 kg/d concentrate pellets (LATc), fresh grass harvested at late maturity stage (LAT), and fresh grass harvested at early maturity stage (ERL). The cows were housed in tiestalls and milked twice daily. The cows had ad libitum access to the forage, and concentrate pellets were divided into equal amounts and fed separately in the morning and afternoon. Fecal samples were collected to determine apparent total-tract digestibility, and samples of rumen fluid were collected for determination of short chain fatty acid composition. Halters were used for measuring eating and rumination time. Gas exchange was measured in open-circuit respiration chambers. Total DMI was higher in LATc and ERL (16.9 ± 0.45 and 15.5 ± 0.39 kg/d, respectively) compared with LAT (14.1 ± 0.42 kg/d). Relative to SILc, cows fed fresh grass experienced a convex pattern in DMI during the experiment. The changes in DMI were related to changes in leaf to stem ratio, fiber concentration, and organic matter digestibility determined in vitro in samples of the fresh grass harvested throughout the experiment. The apparent total-tract digestibility of organic matter was higher in SILc and
LAT compared with LATc. Methane yield was lower for LATc compared with LAT (19.5 ± 0.61 vs. 22.6 ± 0.55 g of CH4/kg of DMI), and was not different between
LAT and ERL. Compared with LAT, milk yield was higher for ERL (21.1 ± 1.14 vs. 23.4 ± 1.11 kg/d) and energy-corrected milk (ECM) yield was higher for LATc (21.5 ± 0.99 vs. 25.3 ± 1.03 kg/d). We detected no differences in milk or ECM yield between SILc and LATc. Milk protein yield was higher and milk fat concentration was lower in LATc compared with LAT. The fatty acid percentages of ΣC4-C14:1 and ΣC16 in milk were higher for SILc compared with LATc, signifying pronounced de novo synthesis. The n-6:n-3 ratio in milk fatty acids was lower for SILc and LAT compared with LATc, indicating improved nutritional quality for SILc and LAT. However, retinol concentration in milk was lower in SILc compared with all other treatments. The study implies that feeding silage instead of fresh grass has no effect on DMI, ECM yield, or CH4 yield, and that concentrate supplementation can increase milk production, affects milk quality, and reduces the effect on climate, whereas feeding less mature grass increases
DMI and milk yield, but has no effect on CH4 yield. 
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Pages (from-to)8036-8053
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding information:
The project "GRÆSMÆLK" was funded by the Danish Milk Levy Foundation and the Orgnic Farming Levy Foundation. Furthermore, N. P. Hansen acknowledges
the support provided by the Department of Animal
Science, the Center for Circular Bioeconomy, and the
Graduate School of Technical Sciences (Aarhus University,

    Research areas

  • casein, fatty acid, perennial ryegrass, ruminant, zero-grazing

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