Date of this Version
J. Anim. Sci. 2013.91:4841–4848; doi:10.2527/jas2012-6168
Our objectives were to describe and test refined procedures for quantifying excreta produced from whole pens of dairy heifers. Previous research efforts attempting to make whole-pen measurements of excreta output have been complicated by the use of organic bedding, which requires cumbersome analytical techniques to quantify excreta apart from the bedding. Research pens equipped with sand-bedded freestalls offer a unique opportunity for refinement of whole-pen fecal collection methods, primarily because sand-bedded freestall systems contain no organic bedding; therefore, concentrations of ash within the manure, sand, and feces can be used to correct for contamination of manure by sand bedding. This study was conducted on a subset of heifers from a larger production-scale feeding trial evaluating ensiled eastern gamagrass [Tripsacum dactyloides (L.) L.] haylage (EGG) that was incorporated into a corn silage/alfalfa haylage-based blended diet at rates of 0, 9.1, 18.3, or 27.4% of total DM. The diet without EGG also was offered on a limited basis. Eighty Holstein dairy heifers were blocked (heavy weight, 424 ± 15.9 kg; light weight, 324 ± 22.4 kg) and then assigned to 10 individual pens containing 8 heifers/pen. One pen per block was assigned to each of the 5 research diets, and whole-pen fecal collections were conducted twice for each pen. Grab fecal samples also were gathered from individual heifers within each pen, and subsequent analysis of these whole-pen composites allowed reasonable estimates of OM and NDF excreta output. Under the conditions of our experimental design, pooled SEM for the excreta DM, OM, NDF, and NDF (ash corrected) output were 0.113, 0.085, 0.093, and 0.075 kg· heifer –1·d–1, respectively. For DM excretion, this represented about one-third of the SEM reported for previous whole-pen collections from bedded- pack housing systems. Subsequent calculations of apparent DM and OM digestibilities indicated that the technique was sensitive, and linear trends (P ≤ 0.027) associated with the inclusion rates of EGG within the diet were detected. This technique allows estimation of apparent diet digestibilities on multiple animals simultaneously, thereby mitigating the need for isolating individual animals to obtain digestibility coefficients. The approach appears viable but requires hand labor for collections of multiple pens and thorough mixing of large volumes of manure as well as analytical corrections for sand ingested by lounging heifers.