The objective of this study was to evaluate in lactating cows the effect of either chopping or ensiling of wheat roughage on: intake, digestibility, lactation performance and animal behavior. Three groups of 14 lactating cows each, were fed total mixed rations (TMRs) based on either long wheat hay (HL), short wheat hay (HS) or wheat silage (SI), as the sole roughage source (30% of TMR dry matter (DM)). Parameters examined: sorting behavior, DM intake, milk yield and composition, rumination, recumbence, average daily rumen pH, digesta passage rate, and in-vivo digestibility. Performance data was summarized by day and analyzed using a proc-mixed model. The content of physically effective neutral detergent fiber (peNDF) was similar in the HL and SI and lower in the HS, resulting in similar differences among the three corresponding TMRs. In vitro DM digestibility of wheat silage was higher than that of the two hays (65.6% v. 62.8%) resulting in higher in vitro DM digestibility of the SI-TMR compared with the hay-based TMRs (79.3 v. 77.0%). HS-TMR was better than HL- or SI-TMRs at preventing feed sorting by cows after 12 or 24 h eating of the diets. Cows fed HS-TMR consumed more DM and NDF but less peNDF than the other two groups. Average daily rumen pH was similar in the three groups, but daily rumination time was highest in the cows fed HS-TMR. Rumen retention time was longest in cows fed HL-TMR. DM digestibility in cows fed SI-TMR was higher than that of HS and HL groups (65.2%, 61.8% and 62.4%, respectively), but NDF digestibility was similar in the three treatments. The highest intake of digestible DM was observed in cows fed SI-TMR, HS cows were intermediate and HL cows were the lowest. Consequently, cows fed SI-TMR had higher yields of milk, 4% fat corrected milk and energy-corrected milk (47.1, 42.9 and 43.2 kg/day, respectively) than cows fed HS-TMR (45.7, 41.0 and 41.0 kg/day, respectively) or HL-TMR (44.1, 40.3 and 40.3 kg/day, respectively). Net energy production (NEL+M+gain) per kg DM intake was highest in the SI-TMR, lowest in the HS-TMR and intermediate in the HL-TMR (1.52, 1.40 and 1.45, respectively). Animal welfare, as expressed in daily recumbence time and BW gain was similar in the SI and HS groups and higher than the HL cows.
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