Biological implications of longevity in dairy cows: 1. Changes in feed intake, feeding behavior, and digestion with age

F Grandl, S P Luzi, M Furger, J O Zeitz, F Leiber, S Ortmann, M Clauss, M Kreuzer, A Schwarm
Journal of Dairy Science 2016, 99 (5): 3457-71
Milk production strategies focusing on longevity and limited use of concentrate are receiving increasing attention. To evaluate such strategies, knowledge of the development with age of animal characteristics, particularly digestion, is indispensable. We therefore investigated the development of feed intake, chewing activity, and digestion in 30 lactating Brown Swiss cows (876-3,648 d old) and 12 heifers (199-778 d old). We also studied whether age effects were exhibited differently in animals selected from herds subjected for 11 yr either to a forage-only or to a forage-concentrate feeding regimen. Forages consisted of grass hay (the only feed for heifers), corn silage, and grass pellets. Measurements lasted for 8 d, where amounts and composition of feeds, feces, and milk were recorded and analyzed. Ruminal pH data and eating and rumination activity were assessed by pH sensors put into the rumen and halter-mounted noseband sensors. The mean retention time of feed particles was assessed using Cr-mordanted fiber and data were used to calculate dry matter gut fill. Data were subjected to regression analyses with age and feeding regimen as explanatory variables, and body weight, milk yield, and proportion of hay in forage as covariates. This allowed separating age-related changes of body weight and milk yield from independent age effects and correcting for differences in preference for individual forages. In cows, organic matter intake increased with age (from slightly below to above 20kg/d), as did mean retention time and gut fill. Digestibility of organic matter did not show a clear age dependency, but fiber digestibility had a maximum in cows of around 4 to 6 yr of age. Ruminal pH and absolute eating and rumination times did not vary with cow age. Young and old cows chewed regurgitated boluses more intensively (60-70 times) than middle-aged cows (about 50 times). Effects of feeding regimen were small, except for fiber intake and rumination time per unit of intake, owing to the different fiber content of the diets. No significant interactions between age and feeding regimen were found. Heifers spent more time eating and ruminating per unit of feed than cows, which resulted in a high fiber digestibility. Irrespective of the feeding regimen tested, older cows maintained intake and digestion efficiency with longer retention times and chewing rumination boluses more intensively. The results support efforts to extend the length of productive life in dairy cows.


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