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Assessment of heifer grazing experience on short-term adaptation to pasture and performance as lactating cows1

Lopes, F., Coblentz, W., Hoffman, P.C., Combs, D.K.
Journal of dairy science 2013 v.96 no.5 pp. 3138
Holstein, Lolium multiflorum, acclimation, adaptation, calves, calving, dairies, dairy cows, feedlots, global positioning systems, grazing, heifers, lactates, lactation, milk production, pastures, walking
A 3-yr study evaluated the carryover effects of dairy heifer grazing experience on behavior and first-lactation performance as dairy cows. Forty-one Holstein and 23 Holstein-Jersey crossbred calves born between January and April 2008 were randomly assigned to 1 of 4 treatments (n=8 per group, 2 groups per treatment) in a completely randomized design. Treatments were combinations of managing dairy heifers in confinement (CNF) or on pasture (PST): grazed yr 1 and 2 (PSTPST); grazed yr 1, but confined yr 2 (PSTCNF); confined yr 1 and grazed yr 2 (CNFPST); or confined yr 1 and 2 (CNFCNF). After calving, all heifers on all treatments were grazed as cows in yr 3. In yr 1, PSTPST and PSTCNF heifers were grazed for 41d on Italian ryegrass pastures, whereas CNFPST and CNFCNF were housed in bedded-pack pens and fed a TMR. In yr 2, PSTPST and CNFPST heifers grazed Italian ryegrass pasture for 65d, whereas PSTCNF and CNFCNF remained in confinement. In yr 2, a mid-trial assessment of heifer grazing behavior was made on PSTPST versus CNFPST heifers. Grazing activities were assessed by visual observation and heifer movement measured by portable global positioning system units. Heifers from all treatment groups subsequently calved between January and April in yr 3. All primiparous cows were then allocated to pastures by treatment group, grazed for 61d, (May through July) in yr 3, with grazing behavior and milk production evaluated while grazing. In yr 2, heifers on the PSTPST treatment spent more time grazing than heifers on the CNFPST treatment (78 vs. 35% of the time) when first exposed to pasture (d 1). On d 1 to 3, PSTPST heifers walked a greater distance than CNFPST heifers; however, PSTPST and CNFPST heifers had similar daily grazing times and walking patterns after 3 d of pasture exposure in yr 2. As lactating cows (yr 3), cows with no (CNFCNF) grazing experience grazed less on d 1 compared with cows with (PSTPST, PSTCNF, or CNFPST) grazing experience. Day-1 grazing times in yr 3 were 62, 59, 76, and 13% of the times for cows with PSTPST, PSTCNF, CNFPST, and CNFCNF grazing experience, respectively. In yr 3, on d 1 to 3, cows with previous grazing experience as heifers (PSTPST, CNFPST, and PSTCNF) walked a greater distance than cows without previous grazing experience (CNFCNF). Milk production was lowest on d 1 to 3 for cows with no previous grazing experience (CNFCNF), but average daily milk production was not different overall over the 61 d of study in yr 3. Results indicate that grazing experiences as a heifer can affect behavior and milk production during a cow’s first days on pasture. After a short acclimation period, dairy cows without grazing experience as heifers developed similar grazing behaviors and performance as cows with grazing experience as heifers.