Nutritional and management strategies on nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiency of lactating dairy cattle on commercial farms: An environmental perspective

H. Arriaga, M. Pinto, S. Calsamiglia, P. Merino

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Dairy farm activities contribute to environmental pollution through the surplus N and P that they produce. Optimization of animal feeding and management has been described as a key strategy for decreasing N and P excretion in manure. Sixty-four commercial dairy farms were studied to assess the efficiency of N and P use in lactating herds and to identify dietary and management factors that may contribute to improving the efficiency of nutrient use for milk production, and decrease N and P excretion. The average ration was formulated to 50:50 forage:concentrate ratio with grass silage and corn silage as the main forage sources. Mean N and P intakes were 562 g/d [16.4% crude protein (CP)] and 84.8 g/d (0.40% P), respectively. Milk yield averaged 29.7 kg/d and contributed to 25.8% (standard deviation ± 2.9) of N utilization efficiency (NUE) and 31.9% (standard deviation ± 4.5) of P utilization efficiency (PUE). Dietary N manipulation through fitting the intake of CP to animal requirements showed a better response in terms of decreasing N excretion (R2 = 0.70) than that estimated for P nutrition and excretion (R2 = 0.30). Improvement in NUE helped increase PUE, despite the widespread use of feedstuffs with a high P content. Management strategies for lactating herds, such as the use of different feeding groups, periodical ration reformulation, and selection of feeding system did not show any consistent response in terms of improved NUE and PUE. The optimization of NUE and PUE contributed to decreasing the N and P excretion per unit of milk produced, and therefore, reductions in N and P excretion of between 17 and 35%, respectively, were estimated. Nevertheless, nutritional and herd management strategies were limited when N and P excretion were considered in relation to the whole lactating herd and farmland availability. Dietary CP manipulation was estimated to decrease herd N excretion by 11% per hectare, whereas dietary P manipulation would be decreased by no more than 17%. We conclude that the correct match between the ingested and required N and P, together with an increase in milk productivity, may be feasible strategies for decreasing N and P excretion by lactating herds on commercial farms. © American Dairy Science Association, 2009.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)204-215
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2009


  • Dairy farm
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus


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