• Manipulation of the pre-partum diet of dairy cows to promote early adaptation to perennial ryegrass herbage

      Russo, V.M.; Wales, W.J.; Leury, B.J.; Hannah, M.C.; Kennedy, Emer; Teagasc; Agriculture Victoria Research; Dairy Australia; University of Melbourne (Teagasc, 2021-11-18)
      The diet of dairy cows in Ireland traditionally changes abruptly from predominantly pasture silage before calving to grazed perennial ryegrass immediately after calving. This potentially leads to problems with adaptation of microbes in the rumen with consequences of reduced intake and ultimately lower milk production. This experiment aimed to determine if introducing first-lactation dairy cows to perennial ryegrass herbage in the final weeks of pregnancy, thus eliminating a major dietary change at calving, could improve the adaptation process, potentially increasing dry matter intake (DMI) and milk production in early lactation. Three weeks prior to their expected calving date, 14 spring calving dairy cows were assigned to one of two treatments (n = 7): pasture silage pre-partum and perennial ryegrass herbage post-partum, or perennial ryegrass herbage both pre- and post-partum. Treatment diets were fed for 11 (±7) d pre-partum and for 14 (±0) d post-partum. For both treatments, DMI increased post-partum, but there was no difference between treatments, pre- or post-partum (5.9 and 8.8 kg DM/cow per day, respectively). There were no differences in milk yield or composition between the treatments. Body condition score declined following parturition but there were no differences between treatments. Plasma non-esterified fatty acids, glucose and β-hydroxybutyrate were also unaffected by treatment but did indicate a state of negative energy balance in early lactation. The results of this experiment suggest that pre-partum adaptation to perennial ryegrass herbage would not benefit milk production in first-lactation dairy cows in early lactation in Irish dairy farms employing this system.