Does body size of dairy cows, at constant ratio of maintenance to production requirements, affect productivity in a pasture-based production system?

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Abstract

This study compared productivity of dairy cows with different body weight (BW), but a constant ratio of maintenance to production requirements in their first lactation, in a pasture-based production system with spring calving. Two herds, Herd L (13 and 14 large cows in 2003 and 2004 respectively; average BW after calving, 721 kg) and Herd S (16 small cows in both years; 606 kg) [Correction added after online publication 14 January 2011: 16 small cows in both years; 621 kg was changed to 16 small cows in both years; 606 kg], all in their second or following lactations, were each allocated 6 ha of pasture and rotationally grazed on 10 parallel paddocks with equal herbage offer and nutritional values. Winter hay, harvested from the same pastures, was offered ad libitum in the indoor periods in a tied stall barn. Each herd received, per lactation and year, approximately 2000 kg dry matter (DM) of concentrates and of fodder beets, equally distributed to every individual. Indoors, the L-cows ingested more DM than the S-cows (18.7 vs. 16.3 kg DM/cow per day; p < 0.01), but DM intake per 100 kg of metabolic BW was similar (13.0 vs. 13.1 kg DM/cow per day). Estimates based on the n-alkane technique gave similar results on pasture (17.9 vs. 15.5 kg DM/cow per day; p < 0.001). Roughage intakes per 100 kg of metabolic BW, at 13.5 kg DM/cow per day, were similar. Mean annual yield of energy-corrected milk (ECM)/ha was slightly higher for the S-herd than the L-herd (13 026 vs. 12 284 kg) but was associated with a higher stocking rate (on average +20%) for the S-herd. Feed conversion efficiency (1.2 vs. 1.3 kg ECM/kg DM intake) and overall milk production efficiency (45.3 vs. 47.3 kg ECM/kg metabolic BW) were similar in L- and S-cows. Thus, both dairy cow types were equally efficient in utilising pasture-based forage.

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