Effects of cow diet on the microbial community and organic matter and nitrogen content of feces

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Knowledge of the effects of cow diet on manure composition is required to improve nutrient use efficiency and to decrease emissions of N to the environment. Therefore, we performed an experiment with nonlactating cows to determine the consequences of changes in cow rations for the chemical characteristics and the traits of the microbial community in the feces. In this experiment, 16 cows were fed 8 diets, differing in crude protein, neutral detergent fiber, starch, and net energy content. These differences were achieved by changing dietary ingredients or roughage to concentrate ratio. After an adaptation period of 3 wk, fecal material was collected and analyzed. Observed results were compared with simulated values using a mechanistic model that provides insight into the mechanisms involved in the effect of dietary variation on fecal composition. Feces produced on a high-fiber, low-protein diet had a high C:N ratio (>16) and had lower concentrations of both organic and inorganic N than feces on a low-fiber, high-protein diet. Fecal bacterial biomass concentration was highest in high-protein, high-energy diets. The fraction of inorganic N in the feces was not significantly different between the different feces. Microbial biomass in the feces ranged from 1,200 to 8,000 mu g of C/g of dry matter (average:3,700 mu g of C/g of dry matter). Bacterial diversity was similar for all fecal materials, but the different protein levels in the feeding regimens induced changes in the community structure present in the different feces. The simulated total N content (Ntotal) in the feces ranged from 1.0 to 1.5 times the observed concentrations, whereas the simulated C:Ntotal of the feces ranged from 0.7 to 0.9 times the observed C:Ntotal. However, bacterial biomass C was not predicted satisfactorily (simulated values being on average 3 times higher than observed), giving rise to further discussion on the definition of microbial C in feces. Based on these observations, it was concluded that diet composition affected fecal chemical composition and microbial biomass. These changes may affect the nutrient use and efficiency of the manure. Because the present experiment used a limited number of dry cows and extreme diet regimens, extrapolation of results to other dairy cow situations should be done with care.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5146-5158
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 2007


  • gradient gel-electrophoresis
  • 16s ribosomal-rna
  • bacterial diversity
  • cattle slurry
  • soil
  • manure
  • mineralization
  • decomposition
  • management
  • ecology


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