Dec. 16 2019 09:22 AM

Use grouping strategies for prefresh and postfresh cows that focus on the ration to aid in maximizing milk yields.

Getting the optimal level of milk production from feed inputs is a goal of nearly every dairy producer. During the December Hoard’s Dairyman webinar, Bill Weiss from The Ohio State University talked about ration management during the transition period in “Feeding cows to reach their peak.”

When analyzing the data from 12 studies and 26 comparisons, Weiss summarized, “Twelve percent protein for the prefresh diet is enough.” Overfeeding protein is not necessary and is definitely expensive. Higher protein diets fed to the prefresh group yielded the same production levels as those fed at the 12 percent level.

First-lactation females are a different story, though. “They need 15 percent crude protein (CP) because they have a high demand for growth,” continued Weiss. “If first-lactation cows are grouped with older cows, those mixed groups should be at 13 to 14 percent protein. For starch levels, aim for 15 percent.”

When facilities and labor allow, Weiss recommends focusing on the fresh cow – where cows would be grouped and fed a fresh cow diet for just three to four weeks after calving. This way, they can receive additional nutrients during this important time frame. However, this will be an expensive diet, so he recommends it only be used for the first three to four weeks. In addition, provide more than adequate space so cows are not overcrowded. This additional grouping strategy will increase the number of pen moves during lactation, which we often try to minimize, but Weiss believes the additional time and expense in this fresh pen will pay long-term dividends.

The fresh pen diet would concentrate on meeting the carbohydrate, fat, and protein/amino acid needs of the lactating cow. This would include starch at 25 percent and forage neutral detergent fiber (fNDF) at 20 percent. “If you are feeding additional fat, lower the starch level to 20 percent,” he advised. The cow would also receive all the required minerals and vitamins, but with a boost of potassium and the addition of rumen-protected choline. Again, these changes will drive up feed costs, but fewer cases of mastitis and metritis are expected with these additions.

Because high crude protein improved dry matter intake (DMI) and digestibility, the result was higher milk production. This strategy was not accompanied by more ketosis incidents.

While there has been quite a bit of studies in this area, Weiss concluded that he wished there were more studies that followed cows farther into lactation rather than the shorter window that many trials utilize. The results could provide insight into longer term impacts of the ration during the transition period. To dig deeper into this topic, Weiss reviews the rations’ makeup and discusses the results of several studies. Those insights can be found in the archived webinar which was sponsored by QLF.

Patti Hurtgen

The author is the online media manager and is responsible for the website, webinars, and social media. A graduate of Modesto Junior College and Fresno State, she was raised on a California dairy and frequently blogs on youth programs and consumer issues.

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