Browsing Animal & Grassland Research & Innovation Programme by Funder "Dairy Levy"
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Pasture allowance, duration, and stage of lactation—Effects on early and total lactation animal performancePasture availability in early spring can be limited due to climatic effects on grass production, increasing the likelihood of feed deficits in early lactation of spring-calving pasture-based systems. We hypothesized that restricting pasture allowance (PA) when animals are at peak milk production will have more negative implications on milk production compared with restricting animals before this period. A total of 105 cows were assigned to 1 of 7 grazing treatments from March 14 to October 31, 2016 (33 wk). The control treatment was offered a PA to achieve a postgrazing sward height > 3.5 cm and mean pasture allowance of 15.5 kg of dry matter per cow. The remaining treatments were offered a PA representing 60% of that offered to the control for a duration of 2 or 6 wk from March 14 (mid-March; MMx2 and MMx6), March 28 (end of March; EMx2 and EMx6), or April 11 (mid-April; MAx2 and MAx6). Within grazing treatment, animals were also assigned to 1 of 2 calving dates (early and late) based on days in milk (DIM) on March 14. Early calved (EC) cows were ≥36 DIM, while late calved (LC) were ≤35 DIM. Restricting PA for 2 and 6 wk reduced daily milk yield (−1.6 and −2.2 kg/cow, respectively), cumulative milk protein yield (−4.0 and −6.3 kg/cow, respectively), and cumulative milk solids yield (−5.8 and −9.5 kg/cow, respectively) in the first 10 wk of the experiment. Daily milk yield was similar across the treatments at the end of the 33-wk period (16.8 kg/cow, average of all treatments), as was daily milk solids yield (1.40 kg/cow). Cows in the EC group produced less milk over the first 10 wk of the experiment (20.0 kg/cow per day) compared with the LC animals (22.1 kg/cow per day). However, body weight was greater (+15 kg/cow) in the EC animals compared with the LC, while body condition score was similar (2.85). This outcome indicates that animals that are restricted later in early lactation (circa onset of peak milk production) partition a greater proportion of available energy to maintenance, resulting in greater losses in milk production. These data indicate that despite the immediate reduction in milk production, restricting intake of grazing cows to 80% of that required to achieve spring grazing targets for postgrazing sward height for up to 6 wk may be used as a method of managing short-term pasture deficits on farm with minimal effects on total lactation performance.