The preference of lactating dairy cows for grazed herbage or maize silage (MS), simultaneously offered ad libitum in the field, was examined at two sward heights (SH 4-6 and 8-10cm) and two concentrate levels (CL 0 and 6kg day-1) in a 2x2 factorial arrangement within a completely randomised experimental design. The experiment lasted 35 days and was carried out in spring using 24 multiparous Holstein Friesian cows. On average, the cows proportionately spent more time grazing than eating MS (0.85:0.15) and even though the higher rate of intake (RI) of dry matter (DM) of MS compared with grazed herbage (76 versus 26g DM min-1), the proportion of total DM intake as herbage was higher compared to that of MS (0.56:0.44). The higher crude protein and low fibre content of grazed herbage appeared to have a higher priority of choice than RI, as the cows chose to graze for longer (grazing time 385 min, MS feeding time 67min) despite the lower RI of herbage. The low proportion MS intake indicated that RI was a secondary factor of choice. Concentrate supplementation had a greater depressing effect on herbage intake than on MS intake. These results suggest that the animals reduce the intake of feed with lower RI when the labor associated to eat is decreased. The factors influencing the choice for herbage over maize silage remain unclear.
milking cow; diet selection; concentrate; sward height