Feeding diets varying in forage proportion and particle length to dairy cows: I. Effects on ruminal pH and fermentation, microbial protein synthesis, digestibility, and milk production

Chun Li, Karen A Beauchemin, Wenzhu Yang
Journal of Dairy Science 2020 March 17
Physically effective neutral detergent fiber (peNDF) content of dairy cow diets was modified by varying the theoretical chop length of alfalfa silage and forage:concentrate (F:C) ratio, and effects on nutrient intakes, ruminal fermentation, site and extent of digestion, microbial protein synthesis, and milk production were evaluated. Estimates of dietary peNDF contents were compared with recommendations, and predictions of ruminal pH from peNDF and the recently developed physically adjusted neutral detergent fiber (paNDF) system were compared with observed pH. The experiment was designed as a triple 4 × 4 Latin square using 12 mid-lactating dairy cows with 4 intact, 4 ruminally cannulated, and 4 ruminally and duodenally cannulated cows. Site and extent of digestion and microbial protein synthesis were measured in a single 4 × 4 Latin square. Treatments were a 2 × 2 factorial arrangement; 2 forage particle lengths (FPL) of alfalfa silage (short and long) were combined with low (35:65) and high (60:40) F:C ratios [dry matter (DM) basis]. The peNDF contents were determined by multiplying the proportion (DM basis) of total mixed ration retained on 2 (8 and 19 mm; peNDF8.0 ) or 3 (1.18, 8, and 19 mm; peNDF1.18 ) sieves of the Penn State Particle Separator by the neutral detergent fiber content of the diet. The dietary peNDF contents ranged from 10.7 to 17.5% for peNDF8.0 or from 23.1 to 28.2% for peNDF1.18 . Interactions between F:C ratio and FPL content were few. Increasing peNDF content of diets by increasing F:C ratio decreased DM intake, milk yield, and milk protein yield, whereas apparent total-tract DM digestibility and milk efficiency improved. Increasing F:C ratio improved ruminal pH status but decreased total volatile fatty acid concentration and microbial protein synthesis. Increasing peNDF content of diets via dietary FPL increased mean ruminal pH, but did not affect DM intake, total-tract digestibility, or milk production. The results indicate that feeding dairy cows a low F:C diet helps increase DM intake, milk production, and microbial protein synthesis, but may adversely affect feed digestibility and milk efficiency due to increased risk of subacute ruminal acidosis. Increased FPL improved ruminal pH status, but had minimal effects on feed intake, ruminal fermentation, nutrient digestibility, and milk production. The results indicate a trade-off between reducing the risk of subacute ruminal acidosis and maximizing ruminal fermentation, feed digestibility, and milk production of dairy cows. The paNDF model showed improvement in the predictability of ruminal pH over the peNDF model, but the accuracy of predictions varied depending upon the diet and ruminal fermentation variables considered in the equations.

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