Jan. 17 2013 06:06 AM

Housing the dairy herd in specific groups promotes increased milk production.

Can't we all just get along? People have their favorite peer groups and cows need them, too. On Monday, January 14, Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois, presented a webinar on cow grouping strategies and the financial benefits they produce.

"Today's perspective on grouping strategies" has been recorded and the webinar is available here.

The studies presented evaluated production trends with multiple management groups. When moving from one group (pen) to two, there were milk production improved by 1 to 2 percent, and another 2 percent jump with three groups. There was a slight production gain with four groups. While not all facilities (limited by herd size or housing arrangements) can take full advantage of creating four groups, there are techniques that can be applied to all farms.

One ration for your TMR not only saves the feeder time, but also assures that the correct ration went to the correct pen. In addition, with just one ration, feedbunks can be topped off if additional feed is needed.

Meanwhile, multiple TMRs can lower the feed consumed per pound of milk produced, which raises feed efficiency. Also, body condition scores can be managed and the environmental status improves by more closely monitoring (and reducing) nitrogen and phosphorus excretions.

Hutjens encouraged producers with daily milk weights to evaluate how their pen moves affected production within groups. How much were cows producing three days before a pen move and how much after three days?

Also, study the individual cows' daily milk weights. Did her production regain its original level? How long did it take? Did it even rebound?

Each herd needs to understand the dynamics of their operation. Research in British Columbia showed a three-day recovery in production and Danish studies showed a 4 to 7 pound drop with no ration change, just a move to a different pen with new herdmates.

cow grouping factors

Other grouping factors to consider: Space available both for housing and parlor holding areas, social interaction, age/size considerations, body condition scores, days in milk, stall size and ventilation.

Multiparous cows and first lactation animals behave differently. Mixing the two will impact their feed volume consumption, number of meals consumed and lying times. High producing cows will also respond more significantly to a pen change than lower producing cows.

While some may consider all of these grouping strategies "micro-managing" to gain a penny or a nickel, small adjustments can generate large returns. In the studies Hutjens discussed on the webinar, a 500-cow herd would have net an additional $100,000 in profit by grouping and feeding differently.

Hutjens mentioned a software program that can assist in the decision-making process to group cows by using your herd's variables. This software will be discussed in detail in February's webinar with Victor Cabrera, University of Wisconsin. To learn more on the software visit: http://dairymgt.info and tune in next month to "New dairy software tools and they're free." Dig deeper and ask specific questions on Monday, February 11 at noon (Central time). Register here.

Watch the January webinar and see what strategies can be implemented on your operation. View it alone or with your management team; all are bound to gain information that can help your dairy operation.

The February webinar was brought to you by Digi-Star LLC.