Maize and grass silages are commonly used as major feed materials for dairy cows in Europe and are becoming common parts of dairy cow rations in other parts of the world. The nutritive value of maize and grass silages varies greatly due to variation in chemical composition. A combination of different factors such as the use of various cultivars, fertilization practices, growing conditions, harvesting technology, maturity at harvest and ensiling conditions cause this variation in chemical composition.
The first aim of this thesis was to investigate relationships between the chemical composition and the in situ rumen degradation characteristics and in situ mobile nylon bag digestibility of dietary nutrients of maize and grass silages. Maize and grass silages with a broad range in chemical composition and quality parameters were selected from different Dutch commercial farms. The broad range in the chemical composition of the maize and grass silages resulted in a large variation in rumen degradable fractions of dry matter (DM), organic matter (OM), crude protein (CP), neutral detergent fibre (NDF) and starch.
The intestinal digestibility of CP, NDF and/or starch was affected by the concentration of these components in the maize and grass silages, by the rumen incubation time and the rumen escape content. Regression equations were developed describing relationships between the chemical composition and the in situ ruminal and postruminal degradation characteristics of dietary nutrients of maize and grass silages. A number of the developed regression equations presented in this thesis can be used for accurate and rapid estimation of the ruminal and postruminal degradation characteristics of dietary nutrients of maize and grass silages, without conducting time consuming and expensive in situ experiments.
The second aim of this thesis was to determine whether three cows are sufficient to cover the variation between individual cows in in situ rumen degradation characteristics of dietary nutrients of maize and grass silages. Significant differences (P<0.05) were found between individual cows for a number of parameters of DM, OM and CP of maize silages, indicating that four or more cows should be used for nylon bag incubations of maize silages. For grass silages, no significant differences (P>0.05) between individual cows were found for all the parameters of DM, OM, CP and NDF. The results suggest that using three cows are sufficient for nylon bag incubations of grass silages and pooling of rumen incubated residues is allowed to obtain a representative sample.
The third aim of this thesis was to compare two fractionation methods; the washing machine method and a modified method, for nitrogen (N) and starch fractions of maize silages and N fractions of grass silages. The N and/or starch fractions of maize and grass silages determined, using the washing machine method (washing with water for 40 min) and the modified method (shaking with buffer solution for 60 min) were compared. The different methodological approaches of both methods resulted in different values for the washout (W), the soluble (S) and the non-washout (D+U) fractions of N of maize and grass silages and for the W, the insoluble washout (W-S) and the D+U fractions of starch of maize silages. The loss of insoluble small particles of starch was less during shaking of nylon bags in buffer solution, compared to washing nylon bags in the washing machine. Therefore, large differences were found between the D+U fractions of starch determined by both methods compared to the D+U fractions of N of maize silages.
The developed regression equations for W, S and D+U fractions of N in grass silages and for D+U fractions of starch in maize silages determined by both methods can be used for rapid estimation of these fractions from chemical characteristics of maize and grass silages. The information on nutrient bioavailability of maize and grass silages presented in this thesis can be used to more accurately formulate dairy ration in terms of maintenance, health and production of dairy cows.