Evaluation of between-cow variation in milk urea and rumen ammonia nitrogen concentrations and the association with nitrogen utilization and diet digestibility in lactating cows

Huhtanen, P.; Cabezas-Garcia, E.H.; Krizsan, S.J.; Shingfield, K.J.

Journal of Dairy Science 98(5): 3182-3196


ISSN/ISBN: 0022-0302
PMID: 25771060
DOI: 10.3168/jds.2014-8215
Accession: 057811856

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Concentrations of milk urea N (MUN) are influenced by dietary crude protein concentration and intake and could therefore be used as a biomarker of the efficiency of N utilization for milk production (milk N/N intake; MNE) in lactating cows. In the present investigation, data from milk-production trials (production data set; n=1,804 cow/period observations from 21 change-over studies) and metabolic studies involving measurements of nutrient flow at the omasum in lactating cows (flow data set; n=450 cow/period observations from 29 studies) were used to evaluate the influence of between-cow variation on the relationship of MUN with MNE, urinary N (UN) output, and diet digestibility. All measurements were made on cows fed diets based on grass silage supplemented with a range of protein supplements. Data were analyzed by mixed-model regression analysis with diet within experiment and period within experiment as random effects, allowing the effect of diet and period to be excluded. Between-cow coefficient of variation in MUN concentration and MNE was 0.13 and 0.07 in the production data set and 0.11 and 0.08 in the flow data set, respectively. Based on residual variance, the best model for predicting MNE developed from the production data set was MNE (g/kg)=238 + 7.0 × milk yield (MY; kg/d) - 0.064 × MY(2) - 2.7 × MUN (mg/dL) - 0.10 body weight (kg). For the flow data set, including both MUN and rumen ammonia N concentration with MY in the model accounted for more variation in MNE than when either term was used with MY alone. The best model for predicting UN excretion developed from the production data set (n=443) was UN (g/d)=-29 + 4.3 × dry matter intake (kg/d) + 4.3 × MUN + 0.14 × body weight. Between-cow variation had a smaller influence on the association of MUN with MNE and UN output than published estimates of these relationships based on treatment means, in which differences in MUN generally arise from variation in dietary crude protein concentration. For the flow data set, between-cow variation in MUN and rumen ammonia N concentrations was positively associated with total-tract organic matter digestibility. In conclusion, evaluation of phenotypic variation in MUN indicated that between-cow variation in MUN had a smaller effect on MNE compared with published responses of MUN to dietary crude protein concentration, suggesting that a closer control over diet composition relative to requirements has greater potential to improve MNE and lower UN on farm than genetic selection.