Nitrogen utilisation efficiency in small-scale dairy systems in the highlands of Central Mexico


Nitrogen (N) plays an important role in small-scale dairy systems, both in production costs and as an indicator of environmental impact. The objective of this study was to quantify nitrogen inputs and outputs to identify areas for improvement in nitrogen utilisation efficiency (NUE). Evaluation was in 12 small-scale dairy farms with different feeding strategies. Six followed the traditional cut and carry of irrigated temperate pastures (CUT), and six have implemented grazing of pastures (GRZ), quantifying N inputs and outputs from May 2016 to April 2017. Data were analysed by ANOVA following a split-plot model with season (rainy or dry) as main plots and feeding strategy (CUT or GRZ) as split-plots, with results in kilograms N per hectare and kilograms N per cow. There were differences (P < 0.05) between seasons and strategies in N inputs from purchased N fertilisers and purchased feeds as concentrates and roughages, showing different N inputs and outputs whether in CUT or GRZ strategies. There were also significant interactions between seasons and strategies as in the sale of animals, where GRZ sell throughout the year, while CUT sell at the beginning of the dry season. N balance ranged from 33.9 to 183.0 kg N/ha, and 37.8 to 111.0 as kilograms N per cow with an interaction (P < 0.05) between season and strategies. There was a larger N surplus in GRZ during the rainy season from fertiliser inputs, which reduced N utilisation efficiency (NUE). Mean NUE in kilograms N per hectare and kilograms N per cow was 19%, with the higher efficiency for GRZ in the dry season. Farms with the best NUE had lower use of fertilisers and purchased feeds.

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Authors express gratitude to the 12 farmers and their families who participated in this study, whose privacy is respected by not disclosing their names. Our thanks also to Ms. Maria de Lourdes Maya-Salazar and Ms. Laura Edith Contreras-Martínez for their assistance in laboratory analyses.


This work was supported through funding by the Mexican National Council for Science and Technology (Consejo Nacional de Ciencia y Tecnología–CONACYT) through grant 129449 CB-2009 and the postgraduate grant for Dixan Pozo-Leyva.

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Correspondence to Carlos Manuel Arriaga-Jordán.

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Ethical standards and animal rights

The paper reports an on farm study undertaken with 12 participating farmers who had knowledge of the objectives of the work and were duly informed at all times, and their privacy and that of their family respected by not disclosing their names. Recording procedures with dairy cows and replacement stock followed accepted procedures by Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México.

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Pozo-Leyva, D., López-González, F., Olea-Pérez, R. et al. Nitrogen utilisation efficiency in small-scale dairy systems in the highlands of Central Mexico. Trop Anim Health Prod 51, 1215–1223 (2019).

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  • Nitrogen balance
  • Family dairy farming
  • Nitrogen surplus