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Effects of feeding alfalfa stemlage or wheat straw for dietary energy dilution on nutrient intake and digestibility, growth performance, and feeding behavior of Holstein dairy heifers

Huawei Su, Matt S. Akins, Nancy M. Esser, Robin Ogden, Wayne K. Coblentz, Kenneth F. Kalscheur, Ron Hatfield
Journal of dairy science 2017 v.100 no.9 pp. 7106-7115
Holstein, alfalfa, alfalfa silage, average daily gain, body condition, body weight changes, corn, corn silage, crude protein, dairy heifers, digestibility, digestive system, dry matter intake, energy density, energy intake, feed conversion, feeding behavior, forage, growth performance, high energy diet, neutral detergent fiber, nutrient content, nutrient intake, nutrients, organic matter, stems, weight gain, wheat straw
Feeding high-quality forage diets may lead to excessive weight gains and over-conditioning for dairy heifers. Restriction of energy density and dry matter intake by using low-energy forages, such as straw, is a good approach for controlling this problem. Alfalfa stems contain high fiber and moderate protein content and have the potential to be used to replace straw to reduce dietary energy. The objective of this study was to compare nutrient intakes, digestibilities, growth performance, and feeding behaviors of dairy heifers offered an alfalfa silage/corn silage high-energy diet (HE; 13.1% crude protein, 65.4% total digestible nutrients, 39.7% neutral detergent fiber) with 2 energy-diluted diets that replaced various proportions of the corn or alfalfa silages with either alfalfa stemlage (STM; 12.6% crude protein, 59.1% total digestible nutrients, 46.4% neutral detergent fiber) or chopped wheat straw (WS; 12.6% crude protein, 61.9% total digestible nutrients, 43.7% neutral detergent fiber). Seventy-two pregnant Holstein heifers (16.8 ± 1.3 mo) were stratified into 3 blocks (24 heifers/block) by initial body weight (light, 440 ± 18.0 kg; medium, 486 ± 18.6 kg; heavy, 534 ± 25.1 kg), with each block composed of 3 pens (8 heifers/pen), with diets assigned randomly to 1 pen within the block. Diets were offered in a 56-d feeding trial. Both dry matter intake and energy intake were decreased with the addition of low-energy forages to the diets, but no differences in dry matter intake were observed across diluted diets. Digestibility of dry matter, organic matter, neutral detergent fiber, and apparent N were greater for HE compared with diluted diets, and for WS compared with STM. Total body weight gain (74 vs. 56 kg) and average daily gain (1.32 vs. 1.00 kg/d) were greater for heifers offered HE compared with diluted diets. Feed efficiency tended to be less for heifers offered the diluted diets compared with HE (10.7 vs. 8.6 kg of feed/kg of gain). Heifers did not sort for or against particles when offered HE. However, increased sorting behavior was observed for diluted diets. Compared with ad libitum feeding dairy heifers a diet with high nutrient content forages (corn silage and alfalfa silage), use of diet diluted with alfalfa stemlage or wheat straw is an effective feeding management strategy to control total daily dry matter and energy intake by increasing gut fill, and maintain desirable body condition and growth rates, even though the diluted diets had greater sortability.