Influence of milk urea concentration on fractional urea disappearance rate from milk to blood plasma in dairy cows

J.W. Spek*, J. Dijkstra, A. Bannink

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


The relationship between milk urea nitrogen (MUN; mg of N/dL) and urinary N excretion is affected, among others, by diurnal dynamics in MUN, which in turn is largely influenced by feed intake pattern and characteristics of urea transfer from blood plasma to milk and vice versa. This study aimed to obtain insight in urea transfer characteristics within the mammary gland and from the mammary gland to blood plasma in dairy cows at various concentrations of plasma urea nitrogen (PUN; mg of N/dL) and MUN. Urea transfer from milk to blood plasma and urea transfer within the mammary gland itself was evaluated in a 4 × 4 Latin square design using 4 lactating multiparous Holstein-Friesian cows (milk production of 39.8 ± 4.70 kg/d and 90 ± 3.9 d in milk). Treatments consisted of 4 primed continuous intravenous urea infusions of 0, 5, 10, and 15 g of urea/h. Boluses of [15N15N]urea were injected in cistern milk at 20, 60, and 100 min before the 1700 h milking. Milk was collected in portions of approximately 2 L at the 1700 h milking. Milk samples were analyzed for urea and enrichment of 15N-urea. Results from one cow were discarded because of leakage of milk from the teats after injection of boluses of [15N15N]urea. Increasing urea infusion rate linearly increased PUN from 11.4 (0 g of urea/h) to 25.9 mg/dL (15 g of urea/h) and MUN from 10.3 (0 g of urea/h) to 23.5 (15 g of urea/h) mg of N/dL. The percentage of injected [15N15N]urea recovered from milk at the time of injection was not affected by urea infusion rate and varied between 65.1 and 73.0%, indicating that a substantial portion of injected [15N15N]urea was not accounted for by collected milk. The estimated fractional disappearance rate of 15N-urea from milk to blood (K urea; per hour) linearly increased from 0.429 (0 g of urea/h) to 0.641 per hour (15 g of urea/h). Cistern injected [15N15N]urea diffused within 20 min after injection toward alveoli milk. Calculations with the average K urea estimated in this study show that 89% of an initial difference between PUN and MUN will have disappeared after 4 h. In conclusion, urea disappearance from milk in the mammary gland is substantial, as well as the intramammary urea exchange between cistern, duct, and alveoli milk. However, results have to be interpreted with caution given the lack of full recovery of dosed 15N urea at time of injection. Information on K urea is useful to quantify the effects of diurnal variation in PUN on MUN, which enhances the utility of MUN as an indicator for N excretion in urine.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3880-3888
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number5
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Blood plasma
  • Dairy cow
  • Milk
  • Urea
  • Urea transfer

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