During spring kikuyu-ryegrass pasture has a low dry matter (DM) content (10-12%), is highly digestible and has high levels of soluble carbohydrates. Low rumen pH values have been recorded for cows grazing these pastures even when supplemented with low levels of concentrate. The rumen environment and extent of rumination may therefore be sub-optimal. Supplementation of the pasture with dry roughage may improve rumination, the rumen environment and therefore also milk production performance. The aim of the study was to determine if strategic supplementation of lucerne hay will improve milk production, milk composition and the rumen environment of cows grazing high quality kikuyu/ryegrass during spring and receiving low levels of concentrate. Forty eight high producing Jersey cows were blocked and randomly allocated to one of the following treatments: control (no supplemental roughage), supplementation of 1.0 kg lucerne hay and supplementation of 2.0 kg lucerne hay after morning milking. Cows received 5 kg of dairy concentrate per day during milking. Cows grazed as one group and pasture was allocated to ensure a post grazing height of 10-12 on the rising plate meter (5-6 cm). The average post grazing pasture height for the experimental period was 10.83±1.68 (n=73) on the RPM (5.42 cm). There were no differences (P >0.10) between the treatments for 4% fat corrected milk production, which were 22.2 kg/d for the control, and 22.5 kg/d and 22.9 kg/d for the 1 kg and 2 kg lucerne treatments respectively. Milk fat and protein percentage was not affected (P >0.10) by supplementation of lucerne hay. The milk lactose content of cows receiving the control and 1 kg lucerne hay treatments were higher (P <0.05) than those of cows receiving the 2 kg lucerne hay treatment. Eight rumen cannulated Jersey cows were randomly allocated to either the control or the 2 kg lucerne hay treatment in a cross-over design. These cows grazed together with the cows of the production study and received the same dairy concentrate. Rumen pH was measured for 48 hours with 10 minute intervals using an automated pH logging system. Rumen samples were taken at 08:00, 14:00, 20:00 and 02:00 and were analysed for ammonia-nitrogen (NH3-N), volatile fatty acids (VFA) and pH. An in sacco study was conducted to determine DM and neutral detergent fibre (NDF) disappearance of ryegrass. There were no differences (P >0.10) between treatments in overall mean pH, measured with either the logging systems or with the portable pH meters averaging 6.18 and 6.11 for cows receiving the control and the 2 kg lucerne treatment respectively. The mean rumen NH3-N did not differ (P >0.10) between treatments. The mean concentration of acetic acid and the total VFA concentration was higher (P <0.05) for cows receiving the 2 kg lucerne treatment compared to the control. There were no differences (P >0.10) between treatments in the DM or NDF disappearance of ryegrass after 24 hours. Supplementation of lucerne hay to cows grazing well managed kikuyu-ryegrass pasture during spring did not improve milk production, milk composition, rumen pH or in situ NDF disappearance of ryegrass Results suggest that cows grazing kikuyu/ryegrass pastures supplemented with low levels of concentrate consume sufficient eNDF to maintain a favourable rumen environment and normal milk composition. Copyright
Dissertation (MSc(Agric))--University of Pretoria, 2012.