Although every dairy farmer would prefer to continue milk production and farm processes as they had planned earlier in the year, it appears milk production restrictions may be a reality through the rest of 2020. Some areas and co-ops have already instituted such measures to limit or reduce milk production.
“Processors are asking dairies to reduce milk supply at a time when it is not possible to cull heavily due to decreased meat processing facility capacity for cattle,” detailed Cornell’s Mike Van Amburgh, Tom Overton, and Julio Giordano.
In a recent Pro-Dairy e-Alert, they offered strategies for limiting production either by nutrition or management restrictions. Their recommendations related to nutrition alterations begin with working with a nutritionist to ensure all nutrients outside of energy are balanced according to energy allowable milk.
Feed more forage
As such, a logical option is to raise the amount of forage in the diet if forage inventories and neutral detergent values (NDF) allow. The Cornell nutrition experts recommend optimizing NDF intake at 1.2% of cow body weight. If 60 pounds of dry matter intake is the goal for a 1,700-pound cow, NDF intake should make up around 33% to 35% NDF. For post-peak cows, rations can be formulated up to 38% NDF.
“If you are not at that level of NDF, the first step is to formulate in that range, assuming forage inventories will allow for that increase, otherwise increasing non-forage fiber sources would work,” they wrote.
This nutrition change will allow the starch content of the diet to be reduced to 20% or less while maintaining metabolizable protein, mineral, and vitamin levels. “It is important to balance metabolizable protein allowable milk to predicted metabolizable energy allowable milk to maintain normal milk composition,” Van Amburgh, Overton, and Giordano said.
These ration revisions can be made with relatively small long-term impacts on the health or production of the herd. “If nutritional changes are implemented to reduce milk output, reversing the process should be conducted over a couple weeks to allow the rumen to adjust to the higher starch, lower NDF diets,” they explained.
Shift management if needed
If culling is an option, the Cornell group recommends selling trouble cows. This includes any with high somatic cell counts and difficult breeders. Cows over 200 days in calf could also be dried off early. They especially suggested identifying cows that were lower margin cows based on their estimated income over feed cost.
They did address reducing milkings from three to two times per day. If this is an option your farm is considering, focus on doing so in fresh cows up to 21 days in milk and later lactation cows over 150 days in milk. Carefully consider doing this step back in high production animals. The group warned that cutting peak lactation animals back without altering rations would lead to uncomfortable cows and a higher risk of mastitis.
“From our perspective, and from the options discussed, decreasing milking frequency will result in the longest lag in terms of the herd returning to normal milk production, so it is our less preferred option,” the Cornell group concluded.