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Negative associative effects

The advanced version of the Pasture Consumption Calculator enables users is

able to select negative associative effects of 0, 2.5 or 5%. When selected, these
values represent the reduction in estimated ME of pasture and conserved
forage supplements - for example:

If '0%' is selected, it is assumed there are no negative associative effects

between feeds.
If '2.5%' or '5%' is selected, the estimated ME value of pasture and
conserved forage supplements is reduced by 2.5 or 5% respectively.

What are negative associative effects?

When two or more feeds are mixed in the ration, the digestibility and
therefore metabolisable energy (ME, MJ/kg DM) of the total diet may be less
than the sum of the individual components and their relative proportions in
the mix. This interaction is commonly termed ‘negative associative effects’,
and is most common when highly fermentable starch-containing
supplements are fed with fresh herbage or conserved fodder.

When a mixture of feeds are fed to dairy cows they have effects on how each is
digested. As an example, when grain supplements are fed to cows,
particularly if significant amounts are fed at milking, the pH of rumen fluid is
reduced. This in turn impairs the digestion of structural carbohydrate (cell
wall) in pasture and conserved forages. This is an example of negative
associative effects, as a reduction in digestion of the cell wall in pasture and
forages reduces the ME available to the cow. In practice, this means the milk
production response to supplements is lower than what might be expected or

The degree to which associative effects occur depends on many factors.

The type of pasture, conserved forage and concentrate being fed

The amounts of each being consumed, their nutritive characteristics
(composition, physical characteristics and rates of fermentation)
Management practices that affect the pattern of feed intake, such as
pasture allocation and the method/frequency of feeding supplements, all
impact the scale of response.

The method and frequency of feeding is particularly important as this dictates

the consistency of nutrient supply to the microorganisms in the cow's rumen.

In pasture-based dairy systems, grazing cows consume most of their pasture

in the 3 to 4 hours following each milking. When high quality pastures are
eaten they are rapidly fermented producing acids which lower rumen fluid
pH. A stable rumen fluid pH of 6.0 or above leads to more efficient digestion.
When grain/concentrate supplements are fed at milking, they are rapidly
fermented and reduce rumen fluid (see the figure below). This reduction in
pH leads to a change in the rumen microorganisms and reduced digestion of
plant cell wall material.
Figure 1: Changes in rumen pH over a 24-hour period - Perennial-pasture only (pasture only), Pasture with grain
fed twice daily in the dairy (pasture + grain), Total mixed ration (TMR) and Partial mixed ration fed once daily with
once a day grazing (PMR).

The magnitude of associative effects in grazing cows is determined by the

amounts and nature of the pasture consumed and the amounts and
characteristics of the concentrate fed in the dairy. When cows are fed well-
formulated total mixed rations (TMR), nutrients are provided in a manner
that leads to a more consistent and stable fermentation. This means,
associative effects between feeds are much lower as rumen fluid pH is more
uniform and does not fall to low levels. It would be expected that grazing
cows supplemented with feeds in a well formulated mixed ration on a feed
pad would have less fluctuation in rumen fluid pH than those grazing pasture
and supplemented with grain in the dairy, but greater fluctuations than cows
fed a TMR.