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RESEARCH ARTICLE

Nutrition of beef breeder cows in the dry tropics. 2. Effects of time of weaning and diet quality on breeder performance

R. M. Dixon A D , C. Playford B and D. B. Coates C
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A The University of Queensland, Centre for Animal Science, Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation, PO Box 6014, Rockhampton, Qld 4702, Australia.

B Agri-Science Queensland, Department of Employment, Economic Development and Innovation, PO Box 6014, Rockhampton, Qld 4702, Australia.

C Davies Laboratory, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems, PO, Aitkenvale, Qld 4814, Australia.

D Corresponding author. Email: r.dixon77@uq.edu.au

Animal Production Science 51(6) 529-540 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN10083
Submitted: 24 May 2010  Accepted: 28 March 2011   Published: 30 May 2011

Abstract

In the seasonally dry tropics the effects of three times of weaning and three nutritional regimes on the changes in liveweight (LW) and body condition score (BCS) of grazing Bos indicus × Bos taurus breeder cows (n = 210) and their calves were examined through an annual cycle, commencing in the early dry season in April 1998. Most of the cows (n = 180) were lactating initially, and were weaned in April (W1), July (W2) or September (W3) to represent the expected early, mid and late dry season. In addition, cows that had not lactated for 11 months before the experiment commenced (NOCALF treatment; n = 30) were examined. The seasonal break occurred in late August, 3.5 months earlier than average for the site. The nutritional regimes consisted of a native pasture (LOW), another native pasture augmented with Stylosanthes spp. legumes (MEDIUM), or this latter pasture supplemented during the dry season with molasses-urea (HIGH). These nutritional regimes were imposed from the commencement of the experiment in April 1998 until February 1999, except that for the HIGH treatment the supplement was fed only during the dry season. Near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy of faeces (F.NIRS) was used to estimate the contents of non-grass, crude protein (CP) and DM digestibility of the diet selected, and also DM intake and metabolisable energy (ME) intake. Diet quality was in accord with the expected seasonal cycle, and was consistently lower (P < 0.05) for the LOW than for the MEDIUM treatment. Concentrations of CP and CP/MJ ME in the diet, and of N in faeces, indicated that the cows grazing the LOW treatment were deficient in rumen degradable protein during the dry season. There was no interaction (P > 0.05) between the nutritional regime and the time of weaning on changes in conceptus-free liveweight (CF.LW) or BCS during the dry season. Weaning increased breeder CF.LW, relative to lactating breeders, by 0.42 kg/day in the early dry season (April–July; the difference between the W1 and W2 treatments), and 0.18 kg/day in the usual mid dry season (July–September; the difference between the W2 and W3 treatments). The NOCALF treatment cows were initially 79 kg heavier than lactating cows, and lost more LW during the dry season. Microbial CP synthesis was 21 and 29% greater (P < 0.05) in lactating than in non-lactating cows in the late dry season and shortly after the seasonal break (August and September), respectively. Calf growth was not affected (P > 0.05) by nutritional regime during the early dry season (April–July), but was lower for the LOW nutritional regime during the usual mid dry season (July–September); this indicated that the LOW nutritional regime cows mobilised sufficient additional body reserves to maintain milk production during the former, but not the latter, interval. All cows that were lactating at the commencement of the experiment gained CF.LW rapidly from September 1998 following the seasonal break. In conclusion, although nutrition affected LW change of both cows and calves, there was a much larger effect of weaning than of the nutrition treatments examined on conservation of body reserves in breeder cows during the dry season. The observation that the effects of weaning on conservation of cow body reserves were similar across a wide range of nutrition is important for management to achieve appropriate targets for breeder cow body reserves.

Additional keywords: body condition score, faecal near infrared spectroscopy, liveweight, microbial crude protein, molasses supplement.


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