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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2007

Nitrogen efficiency of dairy cows as affected by diet and milk yield

Nadeau E, Englund JE, Gustafsson AH


The aim of this study, which was part of the EU-financed project Life Ammonia, was to evaluate the effects of dietary components and milk production on nitrogen efficiency of dairy cows. The study included examining the effects of decreased crude protein (CP) concentration in a grass-clover silage based diet and results of mixing whole-crop barley silage (WCBS) with grass-clover silage in the diet, on feed intake, milk production and nitrogen efficiency. Rations were formulated and milk production data were registered individually each month for 42 cows of the Swedish Red Cattle breed during four indoor periods from 1999 to 2003. The range in nitrogen efficiency by the cows, 11 to 398 days in milk, was 18 to 40%, when fed a diet containing 135 to 184 g CP/kg DM, 44 to 56% of NDF as rumen degradable fibre (RDF) and milking 13 to 57 kg of ECM daily. The average CP concentration of the diet, containing mainly grass-clover silage and concentrate, was decreased from 168 g/kg DM (170 g in early lactation) in the control treatment period to 160 g/kg DM (163 g in early lactation) during the following treatment period. The CP concentration was 170 g/kg DM (171 g in early lactation) during the third treatment period, when the grass-clover silage was fed in a mixture with WCBS. Using the whole data set (n=284 for primiparous, n=440 for multiparous cows based on measurements each month) resulted in models, in which total DM intake, ECM yield, dietary CP concentration and RDF were the most important factors affecting nitrogen utilisation of primiparous and multiparous cows. Increases in both average DM intake and milk yield by multiparous cows and no changes in average intake and milk yield by primiparous cows fed the low CP diet or the normal CP diet containing WCBS, compared to cows fed the normal CP diet, resulted in similar nitrogen efficiencies among the treatments. Hence, dietary CP concentrations of 160 to 170 g/kg DM can be used for cows in early lactation in commercial herds to improve nitrogen utilisation without causing a simultaneous decrease in milk yield. (c) 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved


crude protein; feed intake; milk yield; nitrogen efficiency

Published in

Livestock Science
2007, Volume: 111, number: 1-2, pages: 45-56