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Feeding and Managing a Herd for 100 Pounds of Milk/Day

If you want your dairy herd to produce 100 pounds of milk per day, then you must consider the following principles.
  1. Each additional pound of peak milk will yield 239 pounds of milk over a 305-day lactation.
  2. First-lactation animals need to produce 75% of the expected mature cow production.
  3. Second lactation animals need to produce 90% of the expected mature cow production.
  4. First-lactation animals should make up only 35% of the milking herd.
  5. Third and greater lactation cows need to average 115 pounds of milk.
  6. Second lactation cows need to average 103 pounds of milk.
  7. First lactation cows need to average 80 pounds of milk.
  8. Dry matter (DM) intake of the close- up will impact DM intake after calving. Maximize intake prior to calving, so that DM intake is maximized in the first 28 days in milk.
The goals that are set for your herd will depend on the demographics of the herd. What percentage of the herd are mature cows is an important factor. The mature cows are the engine of the herd, pulling the rest of the herd with them. The mature cows are able to produce more than 100 pounds per day and they will make up for the lower production of the first lactation animals. Consider the following group of cows. To make the math easy to follow assume that we have 100 milking cows and 35% of them are 1st lactation cows. Mature cows make up 40% of the group. Second lactation cows make up 25% of the group. Given these demographics, you can calculate production goals to reach 100 pounds of milk. Milk production of the mature cows needs to be 115 pounds of milk. Their contribution to the daily milk production is (115 x 0.40) = 46 pounds or percent. Milk production of the second lactation cows needs to be 103 pounds. Their contribution to daily milk production would be (103 x 0.25) = 26 pounds or percent. The first lactation cows need to contribute 28 pounds or 28% to daily milk production. Since first lactation cows make up 35% of the group, they need to produce (28/0.35) = 80 pounds of milk. If you add 46 + 26 + 28 = 100 pounds of milk. The objective of this exercise was to illustrate that each herd has their own unique demographics. If your herd contains 40% first-lactation cows, then the older cows in the herd are going to have to give more milk then in our example, if you want to reach 100 pounds.

To set production goals for your herd you need to repeat this exercise. You should start with a realistic projection of first-lactation cow milk production. Since you already know what percentage of your herd is first-lactation cows, you can estimate their contribution to daily milk production. When you know the contribution of the first lactation animals, then you can set goals for the second-lactation and older cows. Since first-lactation cows will be allocating approximately 20% of their nutrient intake toward growth, they will only produce about 75% of mature cow milk production. If you want to average 100 pounds of milk per cow, you need to focus on getting high milk production from your older cows. To optimize milk production of the older cows, you need to start with their dry cow program. Getting mature cows to consume more than 30 pounds of dry matter during the close-up period will help them eat more after calving. This will reduce body condition loss during the first 30 days of lactation. Excessive loss of body condition during the first two weeks of lactation can lead to fat accumulation in the liver. This accumulation of fat in the liver will reduce glucose production by the liver. What is observed is sluggish appetite and poor start-up milk in these cows. If a herd is to maintain milk production of 100 pounds per day, you cannot have poor start-up milk and sluggish appetite in fresh cows.

Optimizing Dry Matter Intake of Transition Cows
Field trials on commercial dairies has shown that feeding a low starch, high sugar and soluble fiber diet to close-up cows has increased dry matter intake. In a mixed pen of first-lactation and mature cows, dry matter intake was increased 1.7 pounds per day when cows received a low starch, high sugar and soluble fiber pre-fresh diet (Dort College Trial). After calving, cows were split by parity into two groups, first-lactation cows and mature cows. Both groups received a high sugar and soluble fiber diet through 30 DIM. Dry matter intake during the first 30 days in milk was increased 2.6 pounds in the mature cows and 4.5 pounds in the first-lactation cows compared to the pre-treatment period. Paramount dairy in Michigan was already getting good dry matter intake in their pre-fresh cows. During the pre-treatment period, pre-fresh cows consumed 32 pounds of dry matter. The pre-fresh diet during this period contained 9 pounds of chopped wheat straw. When pre-fresh cows were put on a low starch, high sugar and soluble fiber diet during the treatment period, dry matter intake was increased to 35 pounds with 11 pounds of chopped straw in the diet. These two fields trials demonstrate that feeding QLF liquid supplement during the close-up period at four to five pounds as fed (2.5 – 3.0 lbs. DM) stimulates dry matter intake in close-up cows. These trials did not have a control group but there was a control group in the trial at Swisslane dairy. At Swisslane dairy, after calving there were three treatments, control (no liquid supplement), high sugar and soluble fiber (QLF) and high sugar and soluble fiber plus NutriTek (QLFNT). Both QLF molasses-based liquid supplements and Diamond V yeast-based product NutriTek have been shown to boost dry matter intake and milk yield in transition cows. In addition, NutriTek contains bioactive fermentation compounds, including antioxidants and polyphenols, which may enhance the immunity of transition cows and help them better cope with metabolic stress and inflammation. Anytime stress can be reduced on cows in the transition period, it is a good thing.

Experimental Protocols at Swisslane Dairy:
Swisslane Dairy located at Alto, MI with a herd size of 2450 cows, has both conventional and robot operations. The robot operation milks 480 cows with eight Lely robot stations. The trial was conducted from July 6, 2016 through Jan. 31, 2017. A QLF liquid supplement was formulated to supply 19 g of Diamond V NutriTek when fed at 4 pounds as fed. This liquid supplement contained 6% crude protein and 27% total sugar on an as-fed basis. All close- up mature cows received on a dry matter basis, a low starch (16%), high sugar (8.6%) and high soluble fiber (6.5%) diet. This diet was fed for 21 days pre-calving. After calving, early lactation mature cows in the robot herd were randomly assigned to either the control, QLF or QLFNT treatments. The treatments were delivered into the feeding station on the Lely robotic milking pod. Treatments, 4 pounds of liquid supplement as fed were dropped on top of the pellets being fed to the cows. Individual cows were milked by robots about 3 times per day, so QLF and QLF with NutriTek was targeted to be delivered by the pumps to feeding pans at 1.33 lbs. as-fed per milking visit (see images below). Treatments were fed through 100 DIM.

Results: Swisslane Dairy Robot Herd:
Compared with Control, feeding QLF during early lactation increased milk yield by 11.6 lbs., and QLF+NutriTek increased milk yield by 15.75 lbs. Energy-corrected milk was increased by 8.4 lbs. with QLF, and 12.3 lbs. by QLF+Nutritek. Rumination time, an indicator of rumen and cow health, increased 25 min per day with QLF and 33 min per day with QLF+NutriTek. What may have contributed to the increase in milk was the increase in dry matter in the close-up cows. When close-up cows received a low starch, low sugar diet, they consumer 29 pounds of dry matter intake. When close-up cows received a low starch, high sugar, high soluble fiber diet, the cows consumer 35.9 pounds of dry matter. Total cases of fresh cow diseases were similar among the 3 treatments. 

Economic Analysis:
Does it pay to feed QLF or QLF+NutriTek during the transition period? Using the observed milk response from the well-controlled study at Swissland Dairy Robot Herd, feeding QLF+NutriTek generated a net return of $0.88 cow/day at $16 hundredweight milk price. In the Dordt College field trial, the net return even after accounting for the additional dry matter intake pre-fresh and post-fresh was $1.27 per cow/day at $16 hundredweight milk price. From the perspective of improved fresh cow health, data from Paramount Dairy showed that QLF+NutriTek generated a 3.85 return on investment, which was a saving of $25,978 for every 1000 cows. Feeding a low starch, high sugar and soluble fiber diet pre-fresh, which was followed by a moderate starch (24-26%, high sugar (7-8%), high soluble fiber (6-8%) using QLF and QLF+NutriTek generated highly positive return on investment for the dairy producers. More importantly, these positive impacts on start-up lactation should continue to carry over throughout the entire lactation and provide long-term positive returns.

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