Apparent digestibility and nitrogen utilization of diets based on maize silage harvested at three stages of maturity and fed to steers
Advancing maize crop maturity is associated with changes in ear-to-stover ratio which may have consequences for the digestibility of the ensiled crop. The apparent digestibility and nitrogen retention of three diets (Early, Mid and Late) containing maize silages made from maize of advancing harvest date [dry matter (DM) contents of the maize silages were 273, 314 and 367 g kg−1 for the silages in the Early, Mid and Late diets respectively], together with a protein supplement offered in sufficient quantities to make the diets isonitrogenous, were measured in six Holstein–Friesian steers in an incomplete Latin square design with four periods. Dry-matter intake of maize silage tended to be least for the Early diet and greatest for the Medium diet (P = 0·182). Apparent digestibility of DM and organic matter did not differ between diets. Apparent digestibility of energy was lowest in the Late diet (P = 0·057) and the metabolizable energy concentrations of the three silages were calculated as 11·0, 11·1 and 10·6 MJ kg−1 DM for the Early, Medium and Late diets respectively (P = 0·068). No differences were detected between diets in starch digestibility but the number of undamaged grains present in the faeces of animals fed the Late diet was significantly higher than with the Early and Mid diets (P = 0·006). The apparent digestibility of neutral-detergent fibre of the diets reduced significantly as silage DM content increased (P = 0·012) with a similar trend for the apparent digestibility of acid-detergent fibre (P = 0·078). Apparent digestibility of nitrogen (N) was similar for the Early and Mid diets, both being greater than the Late diet (P = 0·035). Nitrogen retention did not differ between diets. It was concluded that delaying harvest until the DM content is above 300 g kg−1 can negatively affect the nutritive value of maize silage in the UK.