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J Dairy Sci. 2010 Sep;93(9):4302-17. doi: 10.3168/jds.2009-2591.

Increasing milk solids production across lactation through genetic selection and intensive pasture-based feed system.

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Teagasc, Animal and Grassland Research and Innovation Centre, Moorepark, Fermoy, Co. Cork, Ireland.


The objective of the study was to quantify the effect of genetic improvement using the Irish total merit index, the Economic Breeding Index (EBI), on overall performance and lactation profiles for milk, milk solids, body weight (BW), and body condition score (BCS) within 2 pasture-based systems of milk production likely to be used in the future, following abolition of the European Union's milk quota system. Three genotypes of Holstein-Friesian dairy cattle were established from within the Moorepark dairy research herd: LowNA, indicative of animals with North American origin and average or lower genetic merit at the time of the study; HighNA, North American Holstein-Friesians of high genetic merit; and HighNZ, New Zealand Holstein-Friesians of high genetic merit. Animals from within each genotype were randomly allocated to 1 of 2 possible pasture-based feeding systems (FS): 1) The Moorepark pasture (MP) system (2.64 cows/ha and 344 kg of concentrate supplement per cow per lactation) and 2) a high output per hectare (HC) system (2.85 cows/ha and 1,056 kg of concentrate supplement per cow per lactation). Pasture was allocated to achieve similar postgrazing residual sward heights for both treatments. A total of 126, 128, and 140 spring-calving dairy cows were used during the years 2006, 2007, and 2008, respectively. Each group had an individual farmlet of 17 paddocks and all groups were managed similarly throughout the study. The effects of genotype, FS, and the interaction between genotype and FS on milk production, BW, and BCS across lactation were studied using mixed models with factorial arrangements of genotype and FS accounting for the repeated cow records across years. No significant genotype by FS interaction was observed for any of the variables measured. Results show that milk solids production of the national average dairy cow can be increased across lactation through increased EBI. High EBI genotypes (HighNA and HighNZ) produced more milk solids per cow and per hectare than the LowNA genotype (2.7 and 4.1%, respectively). The results also suggest that when concentrate supplementation is used to facilitate increased stocking rates, increased herbage utilization and decreased substitution of concentrate for herbage can be achieved. When implemented, the HC FS could increase the overall productivity of pasture-fed dairy farming systems where land availability is the primary limiting factor of production.

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