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Reduce milk production with management, dietary strategies

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused unprecedented market conditions for dairy producers.

April 29, 2020

3 Min Read
Cows line up to eat silage outdoors
GOING ON A DIET: With slaughter facilities struggling to stay online, culling cows is tough right now. Start with increasing the amount of forage fed and reducing starch and sugar. Farm Progress

Given the unprecedented market conditions and the inability to get milk processed effectively in the short-term, processors are asking dairies to reduce milk supply at a time when it is not possible to cull heavily due to decreased meat processing facility capacity for cattle.

Dietary strategies

To start, diets should be formulated by your nutritionist. We need to ensure that all nutrients other than energy are being balanced according to the energy allowable milk.

This is important, as we want the cows to be in good shape when normal productivity resumes.

The most logical and cow-friendly approach is to reformulate diets to increase the amount of forage fed to the cows, and to reduce starch and sugar accordingly.

In order to do this, forage inventories need to be measured as you don’t want to run out of forage prior to harvesting first-cut.

Remember, the decision to cut milk yields is herd dependent. The following strategies are not stage-of-lactation dependent, but the implementation might be.

The optimum aNDFom intake is 1.2% of body weight, which for a cow between 1,650 pounds to 1,750 pounds would be 20 pounds to 21 pounds. At 60 pounds of dry matter intake that would be 33-35% aNDFom as a standard formulation.

If you are not at that level of aNDFom, the first step is to formulate in that range assuming forage inventories will allow for that increase. Otherwise, increasing nonforage fiber sources should work.

At the same time, reduce starch content of the diet to 20% or less while maintaining rumen nitrogen levels to keep the microbes in positive N balance. It is important to balance metabolizable protein-allowable (MP) milk to predicted metabolizable energy-allowable (ME) milk to maintain normal milk composition.

It is also important to make sure minerals and vitamin levels are maintained to ensure good health.

For post-peak cattle generally greater than 120 to 150 days in milk and pregnant, the aNDFom can be formulated up to 38% of the diet to limit energy intake and reduce milk yield while keeping the rumen full of fiber. Again, reduce the starch and nonforage fiber sources, and maintain MP and minerals and vitamins at the level that matches the ME allowable milk.

Management strategies

Obviously, culling problematic cattle is the best strategy, but this capacity is currently reduced due to decreased meat processing facility capacity issues.

Reducing overcrowding to no more than 115% to 120% is one approach. Another is to set an upper limit on somatic cell count and cull chronically high cows.

Finally, any cows requiring more than three services to attain pregnancy are also good candidates for culling now.

Another option is to dry off pregnant cows greater than 200 DCC, especially cows that became pregnant later in lactation and have long days in milk, or cows below a milk yield threshold that will be farm dependent.

Certainly, cows that are likely lower-margin cows based on estimated income over feed cost are good candidates. Before doing this, ensure there is adequate pen space available to provide reasonable cow comfort, potentially convert late-lactation milking group pens to additional far-off dry cow pens, and provide a low-energy, high-fiber dry cow diet to avoid too much bodyweight accumulation since these cows will have longer dry periods.

You can also switch from three times daily milking to twice daily milking. An important consideration is to start with the fresh cows up to 21 days in milk and the later-lactation cows — greater than 150 days in milk.

Changing the cows in peak production will cause stress, and previous experience suggests that if they are near peak or just post-peak, intramammary pressure will be high, causing significant discomfort in the cows. To mitigate this, it would be better to change the diet first to reduce the nutrient supply and then make the switch after a few weeks.

Decreasing milking frequency will result in the longest lag in terms of the herd returning to normal milk production, so it is the less preferred option.

Source: Cornell University, which is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset.

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