Ten ways to improve early lactation performance and peak milk yield

Nov 14, 2022


From our friends at the University of Minnesota Extension Service

1. Start cows with a successful dry period
Research shows dry period nutrition and management affects health and performance after birth. Thus, evaluate your dry cow program if you’re unhappy with milk cow performance. Key goals for dry cows include:
  • Maintaining dry matter intake (28 to 32 pounds per day)
  • Avoiding overfeeding energy
  • Preventing body condition score (BCS) gain
  • Optimizing comfort
  • Addressing hoof health
2. Prevent subclinical milk fever
Reduce the risk of subclinical milk fever (low blood calcium) during the first week of lactation. Low blood calcium (less than 8.0 milligrams per deciliter) correlates with the following:
  • Ketosis
  • Higher somatic cell count
  • Delayed uterine involution
  • Metritis
  • Depressed feed intake
  • Reduced milk yield
3. Optimize feed intake immediately after calving
  • Provide 10 to 15 gallons of warm water with drinkable drench.
  • Allow access to fresh total mixed ration.
  • Provide 5 to 10 pounds of alfalfa/grass hay.
  • Keep the feed bunks clean and fresh.
4. Optimize cow comfort
To optimize cow comfort in the fresh cow group:
  • Use a stocking rate at 80 to 85 percent of capacity.
  • Keep cows in a fresh cow group for 14 to 21 days.
  • Provide 30 to 36 inches of bunk space per cow.
  • Reduce social stress (especially for first-calf heifers).
  • Prevent cows from separating from the normal herd mates.
  • Invest in cow cooling for dry and lactating cows.
5. Maintain rumen health and prevent ruminal acidosis
  • Provide a flake of alfalfa/grass hay for the first five days after calving. Early lactation diet should contain plenty of good quality digestible fiber (31 to 35 percent neutral detergent fiber).
  • Maintain fiber mat with consistent feed intake and avoid empty bunks.
  • Provide free choice buffer and monitor buffer intake.
  • Minimize the risk of slug feeding or diet sorting that may result in rumen acidosis (low rumen pH; sour stomach).
6. Identify cows with a history of metabolic or health problems
Cows with a history of milk fever, ketosis, or mastitis are likely to face these problems again. Keeping an eye on cows prone to health problems allows you to proactively prevent these problems.
For example, move cows carrying twins or first-calf heifers into the dry group early. Data shows a correlation with a 7- to 10- day earlier calving date.  

7. Evaluate BCS
The target BCS at calving is 3.0 to 3.25. You should avoid having cows reach a BCS greater than 4. A lower BCS at calving allows for 0.5 to 1.0 units of BCS within herd variation. This provides a safety margin to avoid overweight cows that:
  • Have a higher risk for ketosis and fatty liver.
  • Are often more difficult to breed back.
8. Position feed additives
Fresh cow groups are most likely to offer a return on investments for feed additives. Studies support the following additives:
  • Ionophores increase glucose availability.
  • Rumen-protected choline improves liver health and function.
  • Protected amino acids meet amino acid requirements without overfeeding protein.
  • Supplemental protected fat increases energy intake.
  • Yeast culture stabilizes rumen fermentation.
9. Avoid anti-nutritional factors
Anti-nutritional factors include feeds containing mold, wild yeast, and poorly fermented feeds. Mold counts over 100,000 colonies per gram likely decrease feed intake and diet digestibility.

10. Feed correct amounts of antioxidants
Antioxidants (for example, vitamin E and selenium) help reduce the impact of oxidative stress. Oxidative stress could be caused by too much fat mobilization, poor air quality, or injury, all of which decrease the efficiency of immune system function.

For more content like this, check out the latest issue of The Cooperator.
 

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