Bluegrass Straw in Dairy Diets to Enhance Environmental Quality

Final Report for GW06-018

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2006: $9,920.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2007
Grant Recipient: Washington State University
Region: Western
State: Washington
Graduate Student:
Major Professor:
Ronald Kincaid
Washington State University
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Project Information


The benefits of feeding some bluegrass straw to late lactation dairy cows included a slight reduction in daily feed costs (using actual feed intakes and current ingredient costs): 10% bluegrass straw reduced feed costs by 5 cents/day/cow whereas 15% bluegrass straw reduced feed costs by 20 cents/day/cow. The reduction in feed costs was less than expected because cows fed bluegrass straw tended to eat more feed, presumably to compensate for the lower net energy of the TMR. Another benefit to feeding bluegrass straw is reduced crude protein intake of cows and, therefore, lowered nitrogen excretion. The predicted nitrogen excretion was reduced 46 g/day for cows fed 10% bluegrass straw and 69 g/day for cows fed 15% bluegrass straw. Because much of the excreted nitrogen eventually is released into the air as ammonia, reducing nitrogen intakes without affecting milk yield provides an environmental benefit.


Incorporation of bluegrass straw in dairy total mixed rations could be an important new market for bluegrass seed producers. In the Pacific Northwest region of Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, there are approximately 781,000 dairy cows and an approximately equal number of growing replacement heifers. If bluegrass straw was included at the rate of 4 lb/head/day for mature cows and 2 lb/head/day for growing heifers, the annual potential use of bluegrass straw would be 855,195 tons. At $55/ton, this equals about $47 million. Although universal acceptance of bluegrass straw in dairy rations is not expected, bluegrass straw may be widely used as an ingredient in diets of dairy cattle because it is a much lower price roughage source, and it contains much lower concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus which complements high-phosphorus byproducts in diets.

Project Objectives:

The objectives were to determine the level at which bluegrass straw can be added to diets of lactating cows without adversely affecting milk production and composition, calculate a phosphorus balance with cows fed bluegrass straw and determine the reduction in phosphorus excretion that results, determine the level at which bluegrass straw can be included in diets of growing dairy heifers, and estimate the impact on feed costs and phosphorus balance when bluegrass straw is incorporated into dairy diets.


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  • Elizabeth O'Rourke


Materials and methods:

Thirty multiparous Holstein cows were assigned to a randomized complete design and fed one of three levels of bluegrass straw (0, 10 and 15% of TMR, DMB). At the start of the study, the cows were 219 days in milk with an average milk yield of 41 kg per day. Cows were fed their respective treatment diet for 62 d with the first 12 d serving as an adaptation period. Individual feed intakes and milk yields were recorded daily. Samples of blood, milk, and feces were collected on d 1, 37, and 62.

Bluegrass straw for growing heifers was done using 36 heifers fed diets containing 0, 10 and 20% bluegrass straw. The heifers were fed the treatment diets for 60 days and body weights were recorded on days 0, 30, and 60 of the study.

Research results and discussion:

Average dry matter intake (25.4 ± 0.2 kg/d) and milk yield (35.2± 0.4 kg/d) for the lactating cows were not affected by treatment but declined with time (P ≤ 0.01). Similarly, milk composition was not affected by dietary treatment but also was affected by time. The concentrations of P in the diets were 0.40, 0.40, and 0.39% DM and P intakes were 142.5, 140.5, and 136.2 g/d, respectively, similar (P ≤ 0.1) among treatments. Inclusion of bluegrass straw into the TMR did not affect the concentrations of P in feces (0.63, 0.61 and 0.66% P, DM), P digestibility, estimated using ADL as an internal marker, nor was plasma inorganic P affected. Thus, up to 15% bluegrass straw was included in a TMR fed to late lactation cows without affecting performance. However, substituting bluegrass straw for alfalfa hay reduced feed costs by 5 cents per day per cow whereas 15% bluegrass straw reduced feed costs by 20 cents per day per cow. In addition, nitrogen excretion was reduced 46 g per day for cows fed 10% bluegrass straw and 69 g per day for cows fed 15% bluegrass straw. For growing heifers, bluegrass straw added at 10% of the diet did not signicantly affect average daily gain.

Participation Summary

Research Outcomes

No research outcomes

Education and Outreach

Participation Summary:

Education and outreach methods and analyses:

O’Rourke, E. M., J. J. Michal, and R. L. Kincaid. 2007. Bluegrass straw as a partial replacement for alfalfa hay in dairy rations. J. Dairy Sci. 90(Suppl.1):333-334

E. M O'Rourke. 2007. Effect of diet on monitoring and reducing phosphorus on dairy farms [thesis]. Washington State University.

E. O’Rourke, J. Jewett, J. Michal, K. Johnson, J. Swain, and R. Kincaid. 2007. Consider bluegrass straw to help reduce hay costs. The Progressive Dairyman 21(8):2-3.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.