Measuring individual feed nutrient concentration is common practice for field dairy nutritionists. However, accurately measuring nutrient digestibility and using digestion values in total digestible nutrients models is more challenging.

Our objective was to determine if in vivo apparent total-tract nutrient digestibility measured with a practical approach was related to commercial milk production parameters. Total mixed ration and fecal samples were collected from high-producing cows in pens on 39 commercial dairies and analyzed at a commercial feed and forage testing laboratory for nutrient concentration and 120-h indigestible NDF (iNDF) content using the Combs-Goeser in vitro digestion technique.

The 120-h iNDF was used as an internal marker to calculate in vivo apparent nutrient digestibilities. Two samples were taken from each dairy and were separated in time by at least 3wk. Samples were targeted to be taken within 7days of Dairy Herd Improvement (DHI) herd testing. Approved DHI testers measured individual cow milk weights as well as fat and protein concentrations. Individual cow records were averaged by pen corresponding to the total mixed ration and fecal samples. Formulated diet and dry matter intake (DMI) records for each respective pen were also collected. Mixed model regression analysis with dairy specified as a random effect was used to relate explanatory variables (diet nutrient concentrations, formulated DMI, in vivo apparent nutrient digestibilities, and fecal nutrient concentrations) to milk production measures. Dry matter intake, organic matter (OM) digestibility, fecal crude protein (CP) concentration, and fecal ether extract concentration were related to milk, energy-corrected milk, and fat yields. Milk protein concentration was related to CP digestibility, and milk protein yield was related to DMI, OM digestibility, CP digestibility, and ether extract digestibility. Although many studies have related DMI and OM digestibility to milk production under controlled experimental settings, very few have related practical in vivo measures to milk production.

By documenting the practical OM digestibility relationship with milk production, nutritionists and scientists may have confidence in this approach for measuring diet performance and collecting nutritional data for commercial dairies.