Animal Production Science Animal Production Science Society
Food, fibre and pharmaceuticals from animals
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Using a modelling approach to evaluate two options for improving animal nitrogen use efficiency and reducing nitrous oxide emissions on dairy farms in southern Australia

K. M. Christie A C , R. P. Rawnsley A , M. T. Harrison A and R. J. Eckard B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Tasmanian Institute of Agriculture, University of Tasmania, Burnie, Tas. 7320, Australia.

B Department of Agriculture and Food Systems, University of Melbourne, Vic. 3010, Australia.

C Corresponding author. Email: Karen.Christie@utas.edu.au

Animal Production Science 54(12) 1960-1970 https://doi.org/10.1071/AN14436
Submitted: 24 March 2014  Accepted: 18 July 2014   Published: 4 September 2014

Abstract

Ruminant livestock are generally considered inefficient converters of dietary nitrogen (N) into animal product. Animal nitrogen use efficiency (NUE) is a measure of the relative transformation of feed N into product and in dairy systems this is often expressed as milk N per unit of N intake (g milk N/100 g N intake). This study was a theoretical exercise to explore the relative potential efficacy and value proposition of breeding versus feeding to improve NUE, reduce urinary N excretion and associated environmental impact in pasture-based dairy systems. The biophysical whole farm systems model DairyMod was used across three dairying regions of south-eastern Australia representing a high-rainfall cool temperate climate (HRCT), a high-rainfall temperate climate (HRT) and a medium-rainfall temperate climate (MRT) to examine the two theoretical approaches of (1) maintaining the same amount of N exported in milk from a reduced N intake; and (2) increasing the amount of N exported in milk for the same amount of dietary N intake. Sixteen scenarios were explored for each site; these include four supplementary feed N (SN) concentrations (ranging from 1% to 4% N) combined with four milk N (MN) concentrations (ranging from 0.50% to 0.65% N). Reducing the SN concentration from 4% to 1% increased the 30-year mean model-predicted NUEs from ~16 g milk N/100 g N intake at all three sites to between 23 and 28 g milk N/100 g N intake, with the least and greatest improvements in NUE occurring for the HRCT and MRT sites, respectively. Corresponding to this improved NUE through reduced SN concentrations, model-predicted N2O emissions declined from 3.0 to 1.3 t carbon dioxide equivalents (CO2-e)/ha.annum for the HRCT site, from 4.2 to 2.1 t CO2-e/ha.annum for the HRT site and from 4.4 to 2.1 t CO2-e/ha.annum for the MRT site, representing a decline of between 50% and 57%. In contrast, increasing the MN concentration from 0.50% to 0.65% increased the 30-year mean model-predicted NUEs from 17 to 22 g milk N/100 g N intake for the HRCT site, from 18 to 23 g milk N/100 g N intake for the HRT site and from 18 to 24 g milk N/100 g N intake for the MRT site. Corresponding to the improved NUE through increased MN concentrations, model-predicted N2O emissions declined from 2.3 to 2.0 t CO2-e/ha.annum for the HRCT site, from 3.3 to 3.1 t CO2-e/ha.annum for the HRT site and from 3.4 to 3.2 t CO2-e/ha.annum for the MRT site; representing a decline of between 7% and 11%. These results suggest that improving animal NUE to reduce associated N2O losses holds much more promise if achieved through a reduction in the amount of N in supplementary feed than through increasing N exported in milk. This is an important finding for the Australian dairy industry, since manipulation of dietary N to better balance the energy to protein ratio would be much easier to implement than manipulation of N concentration in milk through genetics.

Additional keywords: dairy cows, DairyMod, milk protein, modelling, supplementary feeding, whole farm systems.


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