Dairy

How to Reach the Peak Milk Production Summit

Cow : Lactating Cow Nutrition

Kevin Dill, Ph.D.

Senior Nutritionist – Dairy Technical Innovation

Climbing a mountain is no easy task. It takes preparation, planning and hard work to reach the summit. And, there’s added value in the rewarding trip back down.
 
The same concept applies to peak milk production. Reaching the highest point on the mountain (or lactation curve) is the goal. It takes a strong nutrition plan, a focus on dairy cow management and long-term thinking to get there. And, once you’ve achieved higher peak milk production, there’s value in capturing additional milk in the post-peak phase.  
 
Here are five things to consider as you scale the peak milk mountain.

1. Set peak milk benchmarks

Before you start climbing, you must know your destination. Set peak milk production goals based on your herd’s tank average goal.

For example, to achieve a 100-pound tank average, a first lactation dairy cow should peak at 100-pounds of milk and second lactation cows should make 100 pounds or higher on their first milk test. Then, expect a 3-4% post-peak monthly decline for first lactation dairy cows and 6-7% for second and greater lactation animals.

The timing to reach your peak milk goals is also a factor. A first lactation dairy cow should peak at 60-90 days in milk (DIM) while second lactation or higher animals should peak at 30-60 DIM.

Deciding when and how much to invest in the pre-peak period can be a difficult decision. Many farmers shoot for a 2:1 return on investment (ROI) in the pre-peak period, but a long-term perspective can help achieve additional value.2. Evaluate long term peak milk ROI

Deciding when and how much to invest in the pre-peak period can be a difficult decision. Many farmers shoot for a 2:1 return on investment (ROI) in the pre-peak period, but a long-term perspective can help achieve additional value.

Think about it this way – you only invest in nutrients to support higher peak milk production for about 45 days for mature cows. Then, cows have 300 days or more post-peak to pay back that investment. For every additional pound of peak milk production per cow, you can expect 200-250 pounds more milk per cow over the entire lactation.1

3. Invest in pre-peak dairy cattle nutrition 

Achieving 2:1 ROI over the full lactation starts with feeding the right dairy cattle nutrition pre-peak. A fresh cow has lower feed intake than later lactation cows at the same milk production level. A more nutrient-dense diet helps support milk production, even with reduced consumption.

Dairy cow management also plays a central role in milk production. Along with investing in a pre-peak nutrition plan, make sure cows have a clean, comfortable environment, adequate water access and resting time, and minimized time away from the pen.

4. Support fresh cow health

It takes a lot of energy to get to the summit. Health challenges, especially for a transition cow, can divert energy from milk production to help fight off diseases. The result? Lower milk production.

Support transition cow health and immune function with pre-fresh diet formulation. A dietary cation-anion difference (DCAD) formulation approach to support calcium metabolism can help support transition cows. The nutrition investment to support fresh cow health can easily result in additional peak milk production.

5. Manage body reserves for higher peak milk

Maintaining appropriate body condition during the dry and pre-fresh periods is important to support peak milk production. Too much condition can reduce feed intake and put cows at a higher risk for fresh cow diseases. On the other hand, an under-conditioned cow might not have the reserves necessary to support higher peak milk production and reproductive efficiency.

Target a 3-3.5 body condition score (BCS) for second lactation or greater cows and a 3.25-3.75 BCS for first lactation dairy cows. This may require reduced energy density in the diet for late-lactation cows to better manage body reserves when they enter the dry period.

Every herd, just like every mountain, has unique challenges and goals. Learn more about how Purina works with farmers across the country to do what’s best for their herds.
 

Donna M. Amaral-Phillips, Ph.D. Using Peak and Summit Milk to Evaluate Your Dairy's Management Programs