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Effects of reduced in utero and post-weaning nutrition on milk yield and composition in primiparous beef cows

R. C. Waterman, T. W. Geary, M. K. Petersen, M. D. MacNeil
Animal 2017 v.11 no.1 pp. 84-90
analysis of variance, beef cows, calves, feed supplements, forage, heifers, lactation, lactation curve, lactose, livestock production, maternal nutrition, milk, milk composition, milk yield, milking machines, models, nutrient content, parturition, rearing, semiarid zones, steers, uterus, weaning, weanlings, winter
Development and long-term retention of replacement beef females in a semi-arid environment are of a major concern for extensive livestock producers. Furthermore, the demand of not only producing a thriving, healthy calf, but having sufficient milk to support that first calf is essential. To address this issue, we conducted a 3-year study measuring milk production and milk constituent yields in primiparous beef heifers (n=48; 16/year reared under two different feeding regimens) raising steer calves. Cows received 1.8 or 1.2 kg/day winter supplementation for ~80 day before parturition and their heifer calves were then randomly assigned to heifer development treatments that provided ad libitum (AL) or 80% (less than ad libitum (LAL)) of ad libitum feed post weaning. Heifers developed on the AL treatment also received 1.8 kg/day winter supplementation for life, whereas heifers developed on the LAL treatment received 1.2 kg/day winter supplementation for life. Milk production of primiparous cows was measured with a portable milking machine every other week from days 27 to 125 postpartum. Milk yield for the 125-day lactation period was calculated from area under the lactation curve approximated by trapezoidal summation. The ANOVA model included in utero winter nutrition, post-weaning heifer development treatment, year and their interaction. Heifers subjected to the AL treatment reached peak milk yield ~12.3 day later (P=0.02) than heifers receiving LAL treatment. In addition, an in utero nutrition×post-weaning heifer treatment×year interaction existed (P⩽0.04) for milk peak yield, average daily milk yield (kg/day) and nutrient composition (protein, lactose, fat, solids non-fat, g/day). These interactions manifest as changes in magnitude and rank across the 3 years of the study. Livestock production in extensive environments is subject to variations in seasonal precipitation patterns and quality and quantity of grazeable forage and these fluctuations have a large impact on milk yield. In summary, the gestational nutritional environment of a heifer’s mother may interact with the heifer’s nutrient consumption during post-weaning growth and the current year to trigger variation in year-to-year milk production.