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Ryegrass or alfalfa silage as the dietary forage for lactating dairy cows

Broderick, G.A., Koegel, R.G., Walgenbach, R.P., Kraus, T.J.
Journal of dairy science 2002 v.85 no.7 pp. 1894
dairy cows, grass silage, alfalfa silage, crude protein, dietary protein, silage making, fiber content, digestibility, nonprotein nitrogen, soybean meal, feed intake, liveweight gain, milk yield, milk protein yield, milk fat percentage, urea, feed conversion, feces composition, Wisconsin
Renewed interest exists in using grass forages to dilute the higher crude protein (CP) and lower digestible fiber present in legumes fed to lactating dairy cows. A 3 x 3 Latin square feeding study with 4-wk periods was conducted with 24 Holstein cows to compare ryegrass silage, either untreated control or macerated (intensively conditioned) before ensiling, with alfalfa silage as the sole dietary forage. Ryegrass silages averaged [dry matter (DM) basis] 18.4% CP, 50% neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and 10% indigestible acid detergent fiber (ADF) (control) and 16.6% CP, 51% NDF, and 12% indigestible ADF (macerated). Alfalfa silage was higher in CP (21.6%) and lower in NDF (44%) but higher in indigestible ADF (26%). A lower proportion of the total N in macerated ryegrass silage was present as nonprotein N than in control ryegrass and alfalfa silages. Diets were formulated to contain 41% DM from either ryegrass silage, or 51% DM from alfalfa silage, plus high moisture corn, and protein concentrates. Diets averaged 17.5% CP and 28 to 29% NDF. The shortfall in CP on ryegrass was made up by feeding 7.6% more soybean meal. Intake and milk yields were similar on control and macerated ryegrass; however, DM intake was 8.3 kg/d greater on the alfalfa diet. Moreover, feeding the alfalfa diet increased BW gain (0.48 kg/d) and yield of milk (6.1 kg/d), FCM (6.8 kg/d), fat (0.26 kg/d), protein (0.25 kg/d), lactose (0.35 kg/d), and SNF (0.65 kg/d) versus the mean of the two ryegrass diets. Both DM efficiency (milk/DM intake) and N efficiency (milk-N/N-intake) were 27% greater, and apparent digestibility was 16% greater for DM and 53% greater for NDF and ADF, on the ryegrass diets. However, apparent digestibility of digestible ADF was greater on alfalfa (96%) than on ryegrass (average = 91%). Also, dietary energy content (estimated as net energy of lactation required for maintenance, milk yield, and weight gain) per unit of digested DM was similar for all three diets. Results of this trial indicated that, relative to ryegrass silage, feeding alfalfa silage stimulated much greater feed intake, which supported greater milk production.