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CHILTON – For 31 years, dairy nutritionist Steve Woodford of Nutrition Professionals Inc. has had the pleasure of watching the practices at the dairy herd which has the highest rolling milk production average per cow in the country – just over 46,000 pounds in early 2018.

That herd, established in 1971, is owned and operated by the Tom and Gin (Virginia) Kestell near Waldo in south central Sheboygan County. “I have learned more from Tom than he has from me,” Woodford remarked during a presentation at the 2018 annual meeting of the Calumet County Forage Council.

The Kestell herd, known as Ever-Green View Holsteins, has just over 130 cows with about 85 of them in the tie stanchion milking line at any one time, Woodford pointed. Some of the cows are flushed for embryos which are sold around the world.

Honest Statistics

To those who question the production statistics for the Kestell herd, Woodford says they are legitimate. “They're not all fresh cows,” he stated. “The herd averages 248 to 250 days in milk. Cows aren't bred until at least 150 days in milk.”

What fascinates Woodford is how the cows continue to milk at very high volumes for very long periods – more than a 150-pound per day average for a rolling herd production of more than 46,000 pounds. Cows being flushed at two years into a lactation are still at 100 pounds of milk per day, he adds.

“The cows are just cruising along with high milk production. There's no metabolic stress,” Woodford observed. From his experiences with the Ever-Green View herd, he concludes that it's probably a tight calving and drying off routine of about one year that's the most aging and wearing for dairy cows.

“It's the task of the nutritionist to keep up with those cows,” Woodford indicated. “But you don't get all this milk from an on paper ration. This herd is outside of the model.”

How It's Being Done

Woodford attributes a significant portion of the herd's record high milk production – up an average of 1,200 pounds annually since 2013 – to the Holstein genetics that Kestell has chosen and nurtured. He also believes that those genetics are linked to the very high neutral detergent fiber digestion (NDFd) rates by the Kestell herd cows.

From his perspective, Woodford sees a high digestion rate of the fiber as”the key” to very high milk production. It is easier to add energy to the ration than to try to correct for a low NDFd, he notes.

The Kestell herd ration consists of a well above averages of 67 pounds of dry matter intake (DMI) per day and of more than two pounds of milk per pound of DMI, Woodford reported. It includes the equivalent of 40 dry matter pounds of forage (alfalfa haylage, baleage, and brown mid-rib corn silage), roasted soybeans, high-moisture shelled corn, a protein mix, and sugar, resulting in 16 percent protein, 40 percent starch, and 64 to 70 percent neutral detergent fiber digestion at 30 hours.

The ration's additives include yeast, rumensin, biotin, beta carotene, and sodium biocarbonate, Woodford notes. “That's a very ordinary profile of nutrients and in line on fats.”

Within that combination, Kestell has very precise standards for the forages, Woodford points out. The alfalfa haylage is harvested at between 150 and 200 relative feed value and before it is rained on while the brown mid-rib corn is chopped at a height of 30 inches (the lower portion of the corn stalks is used in rations for other cattle groups), he explains.

In addition to genetics and the consistency in forages, Woodford credits ventilation in the barn for the milk production achievements. For the future, he expects benefits with the already existing use of genomics to predict cow traits and performance, including for the NDFd rates, and for the possibility of growing alfalfa with low-lignin traits (a way to improve digestion even more).

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