The aim of this thesis was to increase the applicability of milk urea nitrogen concentration (MUN) as a predictor of urinary urea nitrogen excretion (UUN) by identifying and quantifying factors that can explain variation in MUN that is not related to UUN.
A literature study was conducted in order to identify these factors that affect the relationship between MUN and UUN. In this literature review a number of factors were established that affect the relationship between MUN and urinary N-excretion (UN) or UUN, such as dietary crude protein content (CP), intake of dietary salt and water, body weight, diurnal variation in plasma urea nitrogen concentration (PUN), exchange of urea between blood and milk, and heritability of MUN. Results of a quantitative meta-analysis where the effect of various physiological and dietary factors on the relationship between MUN and UN or UUN were studied confirmed the fact that CP affects the relationship between MUN and UUN and showed that by using information on MUN and CP more variation in UUN could be explained compared to using information on either MUN or CP alone. One of the factors established in the literature review that can affect the relationship between MUN and UUN is dietary salt content or drink water intake.
In order to quantify the effect of dietary salt on MUN and UUN an experiment was carried out that investigated the effect of four dietary levels of sodium chloride (NaCl) on urea levels in blood plasma and milk and on UN and UUN. The results from this trial clearly showed a negative relationship between dietary NaCl content and MUN whereas UUN was not affected by NaCl intake and UN was slightly increased by increasing NaCl intake levels. The question arose whether the effect of dietary salt on MUN would be similar at high and low dietary protein levels as the renal mechanism of excretion and reabsorption of urea is affected by both dietary protein and salt intake. Therefore, the interaction between dietary salt and protein on UUN was tested in an experiment with two CP levels and two dietary NaCl levels. No interaction between dietary NaCl and CP on MUN was observed. However, the relationship between MUN and UUN was altered by the effect of salt intake.
The literature review showed that diurnal variation in PUN and MUN can be substantial, and that this variation depends on factors such as time and frequency of feeding and milking. Insight in the dynamics of urea transport between blood of milk is important in order to model and predict variation in MUN over time under various feeding and milking regimes. To obtain quantitative insight in urea fluxes between blood and milk two experiments were conducted in which urea transport from blood to milk and vice versa was investigated by means of pulse dose injections of labeled [15N15N]urea in milk cisterns at various time intervals before milking. The results showed a rapid distribution of injected labeled urea throughout the milk in the mammary gland and substantial urea transport from milk to blood.
It is concluded that various factors that are discussed in this thesis contribute to variation in MUN that is not related to UUN. Taking these factors into account increases the applicability of MUN as a predictor of UUN.