The increased nitrogen (N) use efficiency in cattle farming is proposed as a key action to improve N management and reduce the environmental impact of cattle farming systems. Most attention has been given to lactating cow nutrition, excluding the elements of fertility, disease, and the non-lactating animals within the herd. Therefore, the aim of the current study was to develop a herd-level simulation model incorporating these elements to assess dairy farm N use efficiency. We developed a cattle N use efficiency (CNE) model with six primary compartments: (i) heifer growth, (ii) heifer removal, (iii) pregnancy, (iv) cow removal, (v) disease and fertility, and (vi) milk production. The CNE model calculates N loss or gain for each compartment, and then calculates the lifetime N loss or gain taking into account the replacement rate (rep) and/or the corresponding number of lactations in a herd (Lact = 1/rep). Finally, three N use efficiencies were estimated: (i) ReplNE: replacement cattle N use efficiency, (ii) LactNE: lifetime N use efficiency for lactation, and (iii) LNE: lifetime N use efficiency. The sensitivity of the model to variation in farm- and animal-related input values was evaluated using Monte Carlo simulation. Values for a model dairy farm were used based on published data reflecting typical dairy farming practices in the United Kingdom. To assist reporting net values of main N outputs, a dairy herd of 100 lactating cows was modelled. Productive N outputs (1000s of kg) over the course of an animal’s lifetime, partitioned into milk and meat, were dominated by milk production (89% of total N output). We estimated a mean ReplNE of 23.7%, affected most by the last stage of heifer growth. The Monte Carlo sensitivity analysis suggested that variation in time to first calving (T1stCal) might cause larger changes on ReplNE than variation in feed. The sensitivity analysis revealed a strong positive correlation between dietary oriented milk N use efficiency (MNE) and LactNE and LNE (r = 0.99 and 0.97 for LactNE and LNE, respectively). However, our study highlighted two other model variables that affected LNE. Variation in calving interval (CI; r = −0.15) and T1stCal (r = −0.15) may cause measurable reductions of overall LNE. The first is an indicator of lactating cattle fertility, and the second an indicator of replacement cattle growth and fertility efficiency. In conclusion, with the current study we provided a dairy cattle herd model that is sensitive in elements of diet, fertility and health. Lifetime N use efficiency of dairy cattle is dominated by MNE, but we detected specific non-diet related variables that affect ReplNE, LactNE and LNE.
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- Evaluating lifetime nitrogen use efficiency of dairy cattle: A modelling approach
Final published version, 14.6 MB, PDF
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