In order to achieve any goal, the first step is to believe that it is possible.
Perhaps your dairy cow milk production is averaging 26,000 or 28,000 pounds of milk. That’s nothing to shake your head at. But what if you could go higher? If you’ve already broken the 30,000-pound mark, can you go even higher? Can you get to 40,000 pounds of milk? If you could, what would that mean to you?
A herd average of more than 30,000 pounds of milk isn’t a pipe dream. There are herds out there doing it. Of the 19,658 herds on test, reported by the four records processing centers in the country, 221 herds have broken the 30,000 pound mark.1
Regardless if you’re one of the elite 30,000 pounds-plus herds, or if your goal is to break that barrier, scrutinize each area of your operation to see exactly where you can improve. Here are some key elements to achieving the goal.
It takes a team
Conceptually, getting to 30,000 pounds of milk takes attention to detail. But it also includes creating a team on a dairy. When I say creating a team, I don’t mean just talking about a team, but living it each and every day.
Too often, I see owners and managers talk about a “team approach” without really being sure how to implement it. When an operation is living and breathing a team approach, you can actually feel it when you walk onto the operation. While there is tremendous pride from everyone involved in the operation, there are no egos.
Living and breathing a team approach is an essential element in taking a herd to the next level.
Investing in and implementing new technologies can be an important part of moving the dairy cow milk production needle. Continuously evaluate what new technologies are available. Challenge your veterinarian, nutritionists and consultants to bring new technologies to the table.
Next level of nutrition
Capitalize on your nutrition program. Focus not just on the math of nutrition, but also on the biological significance of nutrients. For example, improvements in reproduction are seen when specific fatty acids are fed during the dry and transition periods when followed by feeding omega 3 fatty acids in the lactating period.
Apply technology to your ration. Propel®
CHO Transition supplement is a technology that allows us to tweak starch feeding to fresh animals by providing an extremely consistent, rapidly available starch source. This is instrumental in driving microbial production, milk and components. Rally®
Dairy Feed is a technology that addresses energy dynamics on a whole different level by providing additional energy in a form that the cow can rapidly utilize while not contributing to the starch load or fat level of the diet. When you combine these technologies, which work very differently in the cow, the result is potential for more milk in the first 30 days of lactation. This can translate into more milk for the entire lactation. We strive to change the slope of the lactation curve in this manner.
Push the ration. Not only balance the diet for amino acids, but push for more than 200 grams of met Lys and more than 65 grams of methionine.
Take what we know about starch and take it three levels deeper, with tools like Calibrate®
technology. This tool can tell us not only how much starch is in the ration, but how much is available and how it will perform in the cow.
Cow comfort is where it’s at
There are certain things that you absolutely have to do right, and cow comfort is one of them. Evaluate your operation and ask questions. What can you do to make your cows more comfortable? What happens if stocking densities are reduced from 120 percent to 100 percent?
Whatever you can do to fine-tune cow comfort can likely improve milk production and bottom-line potential.
Fresh cows must hit their peak
Fresh cows set the pace for the entire herd, and the first 60 days post-calving define a cow’s lactation. Therefore in order for the herd to hit its production goals, the fresh cow program must be fine-turned.
It’s not just about reducing metabolics either; it’s about utilizing technology to drive production for fresh cows. This has become an area of stagnation for many operations as they define success in transition only as a function of number of metabolics recorded. Redefine success and ask the questions, “How much milk are we leaving on the table with our current strategy?” and “What is truly possible?”
In order for a herd to achieve 30,000, pounds of milk, the fresh cows need to peak at slightly greater than 110 pounds; assuming a herd with 35 percent heifers. Or, mature cows would have to be about 116 to 117 pounds and heifers 104 to 105 pounds. If heifers underperform, then cows have to pick up the slack, just showing the importance of the first 24 months of a milking cow’s life.
To achieve 35,000 pounds of milk, animals would need to peak at 132 pounds for mature cows and 121 pounds for heifers.
If your reproduction program is tuned in, pregnancy rates should be in the high 20s, if not right at 30 percent.
Take a close look at your records and evaluate how many days it takes to catch cows that aren’t pregnant. If cows are caught on the next 21-day heat cycle, the herd should be on track to achieve higher pregnancy rates. If it takes 40 days before cows are caught and re-synched, there is work to be done.
If a herd has an excellent reproduction program, nutrition can make a much higher impact on its milk production potential compared to a herd with lower pregnancy rates.
Invest in your calves
Everything begins at birth. You cannot achieve more than 30,000 pounds of milk without a strong focus on young animals.
Make the decision
There is a human side to all of this. You have to make a conscious decision that this is what you want and that you will make it happen. Then align yourself with advisors whose own perceptions of risks and mindsets don’t get in the way of yours.
Figure out how to remove the barriers to achieving 30,000-plus pounds of milk, and then redefine what success looks like for your operation.
Cow comfort also plays a vital role in top milk production. Read these 8 cow comfort tips
for more information.
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1Personal correspondence with Agri-Tech Analytics, Visalia, CA, DRMS, Raleigh, NC, DHI Provo, Provo, UT and AgSource, Verona, WI
Progressive Dairyman May 2013.