Does Forage Particle Size Affect How Heifers Utilize Distiller Dried Grains?

Published on: 3/16/2015
Author/s : Written by Rhea D. Lawrence under the direction and review of Jill Anderson.

We conducted a study evaluating the growth performance and total tract nutrient digestion of heifers fed diets high in distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) with different forage particle size. Particle size is important for rumen fermentation and rumination. Large forage particles help stimulate rumination which aids in buffering with saliva. Buffering may be important when considering feeding DDGS because it is considered an acidic feedstuff with a pH near 4.0. Additionally, forage particles size can affect the passage rate out of the rumen and consequently affect the utilization of DDGS, because it has a high rumen undegradable protein (RUP) content compared to traditional feeds like soybean meal. Therefore, it is possible that heifers fed pelleted alfalfa hay may have differences in rumen fermentation, which is evaluated by volatile fatty acids (VFA) production and pH. Total tract nutrient digestibility, and subsequently different heifer growth may also differ because of the faster feed passage rate out of the rumen and less rumen buffering.

Heifers put on the study had a 2-week training period in which they were trained to use the feeding system we use for monitoring individual intakes and fed a ramp-up diet to allow time for adjustment to the experimental rations. Treatment diets were either 15% chopped (CHOP) or 15% pelleted (PELL) alfalfa hay on a dry matter (DM) basis. Diets all contained 30% DDGS, 53.75% corn silage, and 1.25% mineral mix and were limit-fed for dry matter intakes (DMI) at 2.3% of body weight (BW). Heifers were limit-fed to target an average daily gain (ADG) of 1.8 lb/d. Another benefit of limit-feeding is there were minimal refusals and it eliminated any issues with ration sorting as heifers consumed all of their feed. Growth performance was evaluated by body frame measurements, body weights, and body condition scores (BCS) which were taken on two consecutive days every two weeks during the study. During week 8, an external marker (titanium dioxide) was fed for 10 days prior to fecal grab samples were taken to measure total tract nutrient digestion.

Heifers fed the CHOP diet had more dry matter intake than the heifers on the PELL diet (9.7 and 9.23 lb/d for CHOP and PELL, respectively). Body weights (368.3 and 360.8 lb) and ADG (1.83 and 2.11 lb/d) were statistically similar between treatments. Gain to feed ration however was found to be less (P < 0.01) in CHOP versus PELL (0.21 and 0.25). Frame measurements including hip heights, withers heights, and body lengths were similar between treatments. All other measurements including paunch girths, heart girths, and hip widths were slightly greater (P < 0.05) for CHOP compared to PELL. However, BCS was less (P < 0.01) for CHOP versus PELL (3.03 and 3.09). We did not find significant treatments by week interaction or differences in average daily changes for growth measurements. When fecal samples were analyzed it was found that total tract digestion of dry matter (DM), organic matter (OM), neutral detergent fiber (NDF), and crude protein (CP) were similar among treatments (Figure 1).

This study demonstrated that heifers fed diets high in DDGS with 15% of the forages being chopped or pelleted alfalfa hay had similar growth performance and total tract nutrient digestion. However, some body measurements such as hip widths, paunch and heart girths slightly increased, while gain to feed and BCS decreased by feeding chopped versus pelleted hay. Overally, forage processing to achieve different forage particle size does not have a major impact on utilization of DDGS by growing heifers. 

This article was originally published in iGrow, a service of SDSU Extension, February 2015. thanks the authors for this huge contribution.

Professor Jill Anderson´s research is focused on evaluation of different feeding strategies and alternative feed ingredients for growing replacement dairy heifers. Major objectives of this research are to help dairy producers understand their feeding options, improve heifer performance, and decrease rearing cost. Interests are more specially to determine how different dietary energy sources (like fat versus starch or fiber) affect growth rate, nutrient excretion, and metabolic profile.
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