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J Dairy Sci. 2012 Sep;95(9):5024-5034. doi: 10.3168/jds.2012-5392.

Nitrogen metabolism and rumen microbial enumeration in lactating cows with divergent residual feed intake fed high-digestibility pasture.

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DairyNZ Ltd., Private Bag 3221, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand. Electronic address:
AgResearch Grasslands, Private Bag 11008, Palmerston North, New Zealand.
DairyNZ Ltd., Private Bag 3221, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand.
Wageningen University, Wageningen, 6700 PG, the Netherlands.


Dairy cattle selected for negative residual feed intake (n-RFI; efficient) should maintain production while reducing dry matter intake over a lactation because of improvements in feed digestion and efficient use of nutrients. The objective of this study was to measure nitrogen (N) digestibility and rumen microbial community composition over a short period during early lactation in lactating Holstein-Friesian cows selected previously for divergent RFI. It was proposed that n-RFI cows would have greater apparent digestibility of N than the positive RFI (p-RFI; inefficient) animals, to compensate for the lower dry matter intake determined during selection for divergence. Sixteen 3-yr-old rumen-cannulated, lactating cows (56 ± 10d in milk) selected for n-RFI (n = 8) and p-RFI (n = 8) were housed in metabolism stalls and fed fresh vegetative ryegrass (Lolium perenne L.) pasture ad libitum as a sole diet during an 8-d digestibility study. Intake of nutrients and outputs of milk, feces, and urine were determined. Rumen parameters were determined by removing, weighing, and sampling digesta, and by cobalt-EDTA dilution. Intakes of N, dry matter, organic matter, or its components did not differ with RFI. Compared with p-RFI cows, n-RFI cows had a greater apparent N digestibility (77.2 vs. 75.5%), and a tendency toward greater dry matter and organic matter digestibilities. The n-RFI cows had a lower fecal N output (126 vs. 138 g/d) and a lower partition of feed N to fecal N (23.1 vs. 24.7%) compared with p-RFI animals. We found no differences between phenotypes in the partition of N to urinary N or milk crude protein but did observe a trend for n-RFI cows to partition less N to milk casein (16.8 vs. 17.9%). Rumen digesta mass was similar for both groups, despite differences in calculated fractional liquid outflow rates, and most bacterial, archaeal, protozoal, and fungal communities were similar for both phenotype groups. In conclusion, dry matter intake and rumen function were similar for both phenotypes when the animals were fed highly digestible fresh ryegrass, but apparent digestibility of dietary N was higher in the efficient (n-RFI) cows. Future research should measure digestion parameters in cows with divergent RFI when fed diets differing in chemical composition (e.g., divergent crude protein contents).

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