In response to drought-induced forage shortages along with increased corn and soy prices, this study was conducted to evaluate lactation responses of dairy cows to lower-forage diets supplemented with forage substitutes.

By-product feeds were used to completely replace corn grain and soybean feeds. Forty-eight late-lactation cows were assigned to one of four diets using a randomized complete block design with a 2-week covariate period followed by a 4-week experimental period.

The covariate diet contained corn grain, soybean meal, and 61% forage. Experimental diets contained chopped wheat straw (WS)/sugar beet pulp at 0/12, 3/9, 6/6, or 9/3 percentages of diet dry matter (DM). Corn silage (20%), alfalfa silage (20%), pelleted corn gluten feed (25.5%), distillers grains (8%), whole cottonseed (5%), cane molasses/whey blend (7%), and vitamin and mineral mix with monensin (2.5%) comprised the rest of diet DM.

The WS/sugar beet pulp diets averaged 16.5% crude protein, 35% neutral detergent fiber, and 11% starch (DM basis). Cows consuming the experimental diets maintained a 3.5% fat- and protein-corrected milk production (35.2kg; standard deviation=5.6kg) that was numerically similar to that measured in the covariate period (35.3kg; standard deviation=5.0kg). Intakes of DM and crude protein declined linearly as WS increased, whereas neutral detergent fiber intake increased linearly. Linear increases in time spent ruminating (from 409 to 502min/d) and eating (from 156 to 223min/d) were noted as WS inclusion increased.

Yields of milk fat and 3.5% fat-and protein-corrected milk did not change as WS increased, but those of protein and lactose declined linearly.

Phosphorous intakes were in excess of recommended levels and decreased linearly with increasing WS inclusion. Nutritional model predictions for multiparous cows were closest to actual performance for the National Research Council 2001 model when a metabolizable protein basis was used; primiparous cow performance was better predicted by energy-based predictions made with the National Research Council or Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System models.

Model predictions of performance showed a quadratic diet effect with increasing WS. Lactating dairy cows maintained production on low-forage diets that included forage substitutes, and in which by-product feeds fully replaced corn grain and soybean. However, longer-term studies are needed to evaluate animal performance and to improve model predictions of performance on these nontraditional diets.

Source: Journal of Dairy Science