April 2023


Insufficient dry matter intake (DMI) of pasture by dairy cattle is a major factor limiting growth and milk production; however, it has been hypothesized that some dairy breeds may be more efficient grazers than others. This study was conducted to determine whether dairy breed types differ in DMI and feed efficiency when grazing either grass monoculture or grass-legume mixed pastures. The experiment compared 4 different dairy breed types (Jersey, Holstein, Holstein-Jersey crossbreds, and Montbéliarde-Swedish Red-Holstein 3-breed crossbreds) and 2 levels of pasture type [grass monoculture (MONO) and grass-birdsfoot trefoil (BFT) mixture (MX)] for a total of 8 treatments. Pastures were rotationally stocked with groups of 4 prepubertal heifers for 105 d for 3 yr, and DMI was determined from herbage disappearance. Feed conversion efficiency (FCE) and residual feed intake (RFI) were then derived from DMI, and heifer body weights (BW) and normalized to animal units (AU) as 40% metabolic mature BW of the corresponding dairy breed type to account for inherent differences in size and growth rates. We observed differences in DMI and feed efficiency among breed types and between pasture types. On average, Holsteins had the greatest overall DMI (4.4 kg/AU), followed by intermediate DMI by the crossbreds (4.0 kg/AU), and Jerseys had the least DMI (3.6 kg/AU). Heifers grazing MX pastures had on average 22% greater DMI than those grazing MONO, but heifers on grass monocultures were more efficient in converting DMI to BW gain (i.e., RFI/AU of 0.27 and −0.27, respectively; more negative RFI numbers indicate less DMI to achieve the expected gains). Overall, Jerseys had the most favorable feed efficiency; however, ranking of Holsteins and crossbreds depended upon the feed efficiency metric. This study is one of the first to compare the interaction of dairy breed and pasture quality on grazing efficiency. However, the lack of a breed type × pasture type interaction for DMI, FCE, or RFI indicated that none of these dairy breed types were better adapted than another breed type to pastures with contrasting levels of nutritive value.


Michael S. Greenland, Blair L. Waldron, S. Clay Isom, Jacob A. Hadfield, Bracken Henderson, J. Earl Creech
Journal of Dairy Science, DOI:https://doi.org/10.3168/jds.2022-22858