Milk urea nitrogen (MUN) is correlated with N balance, N intake, and dietary N content, and thus is a good indicator of proper feeding management with respect to protein. It is commonly used to monitor feeding programs to achieve environmental goals; however, genetic diversity also exists among cows. It was hypothesized that phenotypic diversity among cows could bias feed management decisions when monitoring tools do not consider genetic diversity associated with MUN.

The objective of the work was to evaluate the effect of cow and herd variation on MUN. Data from two previously published research trials and a field trial were subjected to multivariate regression analyses using a mixed model. Analyses of the research trial data showed that MUN concentrations could be predicted equally well from diet composition, milk yield, and milk components regardless of whether dry matter intake was included in the regression model. This indicated that cow and herd variation could be accurately estimated from field trial data when feed intake was not known. Milk urea N was correlated with dietary protein and neutral detergent fiber content, milk yield, milk protein content, and days in milk for both data sets.

Cow was a highly significant determinant of MUN regardless of the data set used, and herd trended to significance for the field trial data. When all other variables were held constant, a percentage unit change in dietary protein concentration resulted in a 1.1mg/dL change in MUN. Least squares means estimates of MUN concentrations across herds ranged from a low of 13.6mg/dL to a high of 17.3mg/dL. If the observed MUN for the high herd were caused solely by high crude protein feeding, then the herd would have to reduce dietary protein to a concentration of 12.8 percent of dry matter to achieve a MUN concentration of 12mg/dL, likely resulting in lost milk production. If the observed phenotypic variation is due to genetic differences among cows, genetic choices could result in herds that exceed target values for MUN when adhering to best management practices, which is consistent with the trend for differences in MUN among herds.

Source: Journal of Dairy Science/M. Aguilar, M.D. Hanigan, H.A. Tucker, B.L. Jones, S.K. Garbade, M.L. McGilliard, C.C. Stallings, K.F. Knowlton, R.E. James