3 management opportunities to slow peak milk decline
By Dr. Hank Spencer, Cargill Dairy Specialist
Upon achieving peak milk, are your cows transitioned to late-lactation pens and put on autopilot until dry-off? As a result, peak milk could be declining at a faster rate than it would be otherwise. Identifying opportunities to slow the decline rate could be beneficial to profitability, and as simple as focusing on management basics.
To identify management and nutritional strategies to help slow the rate of milk decline, we need to understand what happens at the cellular level. Research indicates there is a genetic component to persistency; however, it cannot be overlooked at freshening. The cells in the milk gland are activated and begin producing milk, but over time cell proliferation slows and things like oxidative stress cause these cells to essentially shut down and stop producing milk. Once this happens, these cells can only be reactivated, or turned back on, the next time the cow freshens. So, even if we’ve done everything right in the pre-fresh and post-fresh period to prepare our animals by managing energy balance and maintaining immune system support, we can still rob them of milk if we don’t continue to pay careful attention to environmental management, nutritional management and feedbunk management.
Opportunity 1 – Environment
When you look at the environment of your late-lactation animals, how does it compare to that of the fresh pens? Is the stocking density changing significantly, increasing competition for feed, water and resting time? What about the bedding and alley conditions? Are these being managed weekly in the fresh pens but bimonthly for late-lactation animals? Increased bacteria loads can increase demand on the immune system, and energy that would go toward production becomes diverted to other areas. While there is little research in later lactation, we know enough about dairy animals to conclude that maintaining a consistent, clean and comfortable environment throughout the whole lactation can help improve the rate that peak milk declines.
Opportunity 2 – Nutrition
As we think about providing consistency throughout the whole lactation, we need to consider when we are making changes to the ration and what is the driving factor. Even if we are delivering the same nutrients, if the physical appearance and characteristics of the diet are changing, this can impact rumen health and overall performance.
Opportunity 3 – Feedbunk
Finally, are we continuing to manage the feedbunk as closely for late-lactation animals? Are they getting the right ration, delivered at the right time, or are they going hours without feed? At times, our tendency can be to focus too much on reducing feed costs in late lactation, and we miss the opportunity for marginal, and profitable, milk.
As common sense as these management areas might seem, it can be easy for many dairies to put these later-lactation animals on autopilot, without realizing how it might be impacting their bottom line. If you don’t currently know your rate of peak milk decline, I highly recommend you calculate it and compare it against the average to understand how much room for improvement, and milk capture, you have by focusing on this group of animals. Then look at the three management areas to determine where you might need to make adjustments. Work with your team of advisers to develop and implement needed changes, and then be sure to measure the results. Oftentimes, paying a little more attention to basic details can have big impacts.