Dairy producers can boost milk production, per day per cow, by a good five pounds.
During the July Hoard's Dairyman Webinar, "Finding the Next Five Pounds of Milk," Dr. Mike Hutjens, University of Illinois, offered a list of possibilities that would accomplish that and more.
"I think I've got at least five pounds of milk lying here and with some farms, it could be seven, eight or nine pounds," said the veteran dairy Extension specialist.
The impact of increasing dairy production/profitability can be realized in several ways, Hutjens said. Figuring five pounds of milk at 22 cents, that's $1.10 minus feed costs of 2.5 pounds of dry matter at 14 cents for an additional 75 cents per cow per day. "That's a big number," he pointed out.
Another way is by saving three pounds of dry matter for an additional 42 cents per cow per day. Increasing milk protein by 0.2 points (3.0 to 3.2 percent) would mean 53 cents more per cow per day, while increasing milk fat by 0.3 point (3.6 percent to 3.9 percent) would translate to an additional 59 cents per cow per day.
JC-Kow Farms near Whitewater is a prime example of what is currently possible. Jarrod Kollwelter's 210 cows boast a rolling herd average of 40,280 pounds, which is certainly the best in Wisconsin, Hutjens said, if not the nation.
Kollwelter's strategies include giving calves three gallons of colostrum for their first three days of life and switching heifers to TMR at 3 months of age. He maintains a conception rate of 60 percent, a 13.2 month calving interval and uses Ov-syn program with ultrasound at 25 days.
Every one of Kollwelter's heifers is genomically tested. Heifers are flushing at 9 months of age and calving at 22 to 23 months of age.
Hutjens' short list of the areas, which will differ per farm, that offer the greatest chance to increase milk by 5 pounds included increasing forage quality, getting cows pregnant, reducing feed shrink and cooling dry cows.
Five years of data (2009-2013) using federal milk marketing orders show July is the lowest month for milk components and protein payments. However, if components could be maintained for a herd producing 70 pounds of milk, which is about a 22,000-pound herd, the profit potential would be 57 cents per cow per day or about 4 pounds of milk. "Certainly, there is real opportunity there," Hutjens said.
In most cases, the midsummer slump in components reflects decreased dry matter intakes for heat-stressed cows, a decrease in rumen pH and added maintenance costs, considering cows spend 10-11 percent more in maintenance just to stay cool.
When cows are stressed by heat, a decline of 5 to 20 pounds of milk is possible during the lactation. Gestation lengths are shortened, and the birth weights of calves are smaller — a problem not compensated for later in the growth cycle. In addition, the calves' ability to absorb colostrum antibodies is lowered.
"That's four strikes against these heat-stressed dry cows," Hutjens said.
Fresh research from the University of Florida tabulated 5.3 pounds more milk per heifer in the first lactation per day when dams were cooled under heat stress. This increase in milk persisted through the 35-week trial period.
The study also found heifers born to heat-stressed cows were not as fertile as those born to cooled cows. "We talk about cooling milk cows, but now we have to take a hard look at cooling dry cows as well," he noted.
Another opportunity can be found by replacing some of the corn (starch) in cow diets with sugar (sucrose), an approach research based on 10 university studies has shown can bump up fat and protein levels.
At 2.5 percent added sugar, trials showed about 3 pounds additional milk, while 5 percent added sugar translated to 7 pounds of additional milk. Whether in the form of milk byproducts, molasses or bakery products, sugar does cost money, but the bottom line is that the cows fed it were more profitable, Hutjens said.
Intriguingly, rumen fiber digestibility also went up with the sweetened diets.
"Both NDF and ADF digestibility went up when we went to the 5 percent added sucrose level," he said. "Take-home message here is the level of sugar becomes very important."
Accelerated calf liquid diet programs are another area that can bolster production and profits. Research shows the milk increase associated with such diets can be 1,100 pounds in a lactation, or about 3-4 pounds more milk.
"Much like the Florida work, the increase is preprogrammed into the calf," Hutjens said. "That's a fascinating area to think about."
In summary, Hutjens said dairy producers should be increasing milk yields by 2 percent a year. While it is a fairly typical trend, he observed, it doesn't happen every year.
He argued that a dairy should exceed the average for milk components. "If you've got Jerseys, for instance, you've got to beat the breed average," he said.
Sugar levels should be a total of 4-6 percent of total ration dry matter, and somatic cell counts should be a two or under 150,000.
Target less than 180 days in milk, unless the dairy operation is seasonal.
"Here's the challenge," Hutjens said. "If you don't like these numbers, sit down today and you plug your numbers in."
Calves should be growing more than 1.8 pounds per day, especially pre-weaned calves, while feed efficiency for the entire herd should be 1.5.
Although older guidelines put milk urea nitrogen levels at 10 to 14 mg/dL, Hutjens champions the new guidelines of 8- 12 mg/dL.
"In fact, our really good herds are around 9 or 10," he said. "They are really doing an excellent job of capturing the nitrogen in these dairy cows."
For hoof health, aim for less than 10 percent of the herd with a score of three and no visibly lame cows in the herd. Since research shows milk production drops by 5 percent for lameness scores of three, Hutjens calculated about 2.7 pounds of milk per cow per day for a 20,000-pound herd with cows scored three.
Hutjens firmly believes it is a good time to be a dairy producer. The milk price was $22 plus per hundredweight (cwt), while milk fat was worth $2.44 per pound in June and milk protein was worth $3.44 per pound. In Illinois, feed costs were $9.10/ctw or 14 cents per pound of dry matter
Heifers had increased in value to more than $600, while cull cows were going for over $1 per pound live weight. The new dairy bill gives milk producers a "green light," and dairy exports continue to trend high — up around 16 percent for 2014.
"Today's economy looks pretty exciting on dairy farms," Hutjens said. "There are some really neat opportunities. The good news is we have good milk prices and we look forward."
To view Hutjens' presentation, which also covered feed shrink, feed efficiency, forage processing, grouping, pregnancy rate and fecal starch analysis, visit www.hoards.com/webinars. The presentation was sponsored by Ag-Bag, a Miller-St. Nazianz company (www.ag-bag.com).