Selection for improved feed utilization is of high interest globally but is limited by the high cost of obtaining feed intake for individual cows and relies on indirect measures of feed efficiency. Supplementing selection with mechanistic measures of feed use could make selection for feed utilization more direct and effective. The objectives of this study were to evaluate fecal sampling as a method of determining digestive efficiency of individual cows and to evaluate associations of digestive efficiency with genetic and phenotypic merit for milk yield and composition. Fecal samples were obtained manually from the rectum of 90 Holstein cows in the morning, afternoon, and evening on a single date and composited across the day. The fecal samples were dried, ground, and stored. Diet and fecal neutral detergent fiber (NDF) were determined using the filter bag method, and indigestible NDF was determined in situ with a 12-d rumen incubation. Fecal NDF (60.1%) and indigestible NDF (41.9%) were higher than that from feed samples (14.2 and 35.9%, respectively). Total-tract digestibility was calculated using the marker ratio method. Total-tract dry matter (DM) digestibility averaged 66.0 ± 2.4% and total-tract NDF digestibility averaged 42.8 ± 3.0%. Higher milk fat percent and genetic merit for milk fat percent were associated with greater NDF and DM digestibility. Milk yield was negatively associated with NDF and DM digestibility. Fecal sampling is a feasible method to directly measure digestive efficiency, and substantial variation was observed among cows. Given significant between-cow variation and associations with milk fat percent and genetic merit for milk fat percent, potential selection for total-tract NDF digestibility estimated via fecal sampling warrants further exploration.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Animal Science and Zoology