Dairy cows grazed on pasture experience variation in their nutritional status during lactation, as both pasture quality and availability vary seasonally. This has both immediate and long-term consequences on cow performance. Acute effects of nutrition are related to availability of nutrients for milk secretion, and are manifested in day-to-day variation in milk yields. Of further importance are the chronic effects of nutrition, which act on the development of the mammary gland, impacting on the persistency of lactation. Typically, cows in a New Zealand, pasture-grazing environment exhibit a decline in milk yield of around 10% per month, after peak lactation, whereas cows fed a concentrate diet in Northern Hemisphere systems show declines of less than 4%. Post-peak declines in milk yield are associated with a proportional and permanent decline in the number of secretory cells in the udder, and this decline is modulated by nutrition (Davis et al., 2000). Quantifying the milk-yield response of a cow to different nutritional regimes is useful from a breeding and selection point of view, but on its own does not give insight into which pathways are likely to be affected by nutrition, nor does it explain the origin of differences in responses between cows. To this end, mechanistic mathematical models that reflect the underlying biology of the udder are particularly useful.
Proceedings of the New Zealand Society of Animal Production, Volume 61, Christchurch, 237-238, 2001
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