Main content area

Growth performance and sorting characteristics of corn silage-alfalfa haylage diets with or without forage dilution offered to replacement Holstein dairy heifers1

Coblentz, W.K., Esser, N.M., Hoffman, P.C., Akins, M.S.
Journal of dairy science 2015 v.98 no.11 pp. 8018
Holstein, Tripsacum dactyloides, alfalfa, corn, corn silage, dairy heifers, energy density, forage, growth performance, haylage, liveweight gain, low calorie diet, weight gain, wheat straw
Gravid heifers consuming high-quality forage diets are susceptible to excessive weight gains and overconditioning. One approach for controlling this problem is to dilute diets with low-energy forages, such as straw, that reduce the caloric density and dry matter intake (DMI) of that diet by heifers. These diluting agents are often sortable by dairy heifers, but previous visual evidence has suggested that eastern gamagrass haylage may be a nonsortable alternative. Our objectives were (1) to compare the growth performance of dairy heifers offered a high-quality forage diet (control) with diets containing 1 of 3 diluting agents [eastern gamagrass haylage (EGH), chopped wheat straw (WS), or chopped corn fodder (CF)]; and (2) evaluate sorting behaviors of heifers offered these forage diets. Holstein heifers (n=128) were stratified (32 heifers/block) on the basis of initial body weight (heavy, 560±27.7kg; medium-heavy, 481±17.7kg; medium-light, 441±22.0kg; and light, 399±14.4kg), and then assigned to 1 of 16 identical research pens (4 pens/block; 8 heifers/pen), where each of the 4 research diets were assigned to 1 pen within each block. Diets were offered in a 118-d feeding trial with heifers crowded to 133% of capacity at the feed bunk. Inclusion of low-energy forages was effective in reducing both diet energy density and DMI. Concentrations of physically effective fiber (pef) particles did not change during the 24-h period following feeding for either the control or EGH diets; however, this response for pef particles masked the competing (and cancelling) responses for individual large and medium particles, which heifers sorted with discrimination and preference, respectively. Sorting against pef particles was detected for WS, and much more severely for the CF diet. Sorting of forage particles by heifers could not be related to heifer performance. Compared with control (1.16kg/d), average daily gains (ADG) were reduced by dilution in all cases, but were virtually identical between EGH (0.98kg/d) and CF (0.97kg/d), which exhibited no sorting and extensive sorting of pef, respectively. Furthermore, ADG for WS was approximately 0.2kg/d less than EGH or CF, despite exhibiting sorting characteristics intermediate between EGH and CF. Diets diluted with low-energy forages were formulated to be isonitrogenous and isocaloric; within that context, WS was most effective in reducing DMI and maintaining ADG within typical recommendations for Holstein heifers.