A national methodology to quantify the diet of grazing dairy cows
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CitationO'Brien, D., Moran, B. and Shalloo, L. (2018). A national methodology to quantify the diet of grazing dairy cows. Journal of Dairy Science, 101(9), 595-8604. doi: https://dx.doi.org/10.3168/jds.2017-13604.
AbstractThe unique rumen of dairy cows allows them to digest fibrous forages and feedstuffs. Surprisingly, to date few attempts have been made to develop national methods to gain an understanding on the make-up of a dairy cow's diet, despite the importance of milk production. Consumer interest is growing in purchasing milk based on the composition of the cows' diet and the time they spend grazing. The goal of this research was to develop such a methodology using the national farm survey of Ireland as a data source. The analysis was completed for a 3-yr period from 2013 to 2015 on a nationally representative sample of 275 to 318 dairy farms. Trained auditors carried out economic surveys on farms 3 to 4 times per annum. The auditors collected important additional information necessary to estimate the diet of cows including the length of the grazing season, monthly concentrate feeding, type of forage(s) conserved, and milk production. Annual cow intakes were calculated to meet net energy requirements for production, maintenance, activity, pregnancy, growth, and live weight change using survey data and published literature. Our analysis showed that the average annual cow feed intake on a fresh matter basis ranged from 22.7 t in 2013 to 24.8 t in 2015 and from 4.8 to 5 t on a dry matter basis for the same period. Forage, particularly pasture, was the largest component of the Irish cow diet, typically accounting for 96% of the diet on a fresh matter basis and 82% of dry matter intake over the 3 yr. Within the cows' forage diet, grazed pasture was the dominant component and on average contributed 74 to 77% to the average annual cow fresh matter diet over the period. The proportion of pasture in the annual cow diet as fed was also identified as a good indicator of the time cows spend grazing (e.g., coefficient of determination = 0.85). Monthly, forage was typically the main component of the cow diet, but the average contribution of concentrate was substantial for the early spring months of January and February (30 to 35% of dry matter intake). Grazed pasture was the dominant source of forage from March to October and usually contributed 95 to 97% of the diet as fed in the summer period. Overall, the national farm survey from 2013 to 2015 shows that Irish dairy farms are very reliant on forage, particularly pasture, regardless of whether it is reported on a dry matter basis or as fed. There is potential to replicate this methodology in any regions or nations where representative farm surveys are conducted.
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