Effect of stocking rate and calving date on dry matter intake, milk production, body weight, and body condition score in spring-calving, grass-fed dairy cows

McCarthy, J.; McCarthy, B.; Horan, B.; Pierce, K.M.; Galvin, N.; Brennan, A.; Delaby, L.

Journal of Dairy Science 97(3): 1693-1706


ISSN/ISBN: 1525-3198
PMID: 24440250
DOI: 10.3168/jds.2013-7458
Accession: 052829857

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The primary objective of the study was to quantify the effect of stocking rate (SR) and calving date (CD) on milk production, dry matter intake (DMI), energy balance (EB), and milk production efficiency over 4 consecutive years (2009 to 2012). Two groups of Holstein-Friesian dairy cows with different mean CD were established from within the existing research herd at Moorepark (Teagasc, Ireland). Animals were assigned to either an early calving (mean CD February 14) treatment or a late calving (mean CD March 2) treatment. Animals within each CD treatment were randomly allocated to 1 of 3 whole-farm SR treatments: low (LSR; 2.51 cows/ha), medium (MSR; 2.92 cows/ha), and high (HSR; 3.28 cows/ha), and animals remained on the same farmlet for the duration of the study. Individual animal DMI was estimated 3 times per year at grass using the n-alkane technique in March (spring), May (summer), and September (autumn), corresponding to, on average, 45, 132, and 258 d in milk, respectively. A total of 138 spring-calving dairy cows were used during each year of the study. The effects of SR, CD, season, and their interaction were studied using mixed models. Individual animal milk production, body weight, body condition score, and the efficiency of milk production were significantly decreased as SR increased due to a reduction in herbage availability. The existence of CD × SR × season interactions for production, DMI, and EB indicate that delaying the herd mean CD can be an effective strategy to minimize the reduction in animal performance, particularly in spring at higher SR. This study further confirms the benefits of a new approach to the evaluation of herbage allowance known as the individual herbage allowance, which encompasses the 3 main factors restricting DMI in rotational grazing; namely, the average daily herbage allowance of the group, the intake capacity of the individual animal within the group, and the relative intake capacity of the animal within the competing herd.