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Strategically Managing Milk Production Against a Limited Base

April 30, 2020
POSTED BY: Mike Lormore | DVM, MS, MBA | Director | Cattle Technical Services | Zoetis

What are my options?

When faced with processor-requested — and in dire cases — processor-mandated milk supply reductions on short timelines, dairy farmers are seeking sound, practical milk supply management solutions that enable them to adjust their milk supply as necessary. At the same time, producers need to consider strategic opportunities that will position them for successful market re-entry when markets, consumer demand and supply chains adapt to the new landscape.

While farmers can’t control lower consumer demand and resultant disruptions throughout the dairy supply chain caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are management practices that they can control.

Reduce production via healthy, highly efficient cows. 

  • Going from 3x to 2x milking frequency allows you to maintain your cow numbers as best as possible for when demand for milk picks back up. Let’s do the math for this switch:
    • In 2019, 9.34 million milking and dry cows produced 218.3 billion pounds of milk, an average of 64 pounds per cow per day, for all cows.1
    • 3x to 2x milking frequency will drop almost 7 pounds per cow per day. Multiply that by the 75% of all the cows in the U.S. that are already milking 3x, and that results in an aggregate decrease in milk production of 5.25 pounds per cow per day.
  • Evaluate your current dry off program. For example:
    • If you are currently targeting 45 to 50 days dry, consider bumping it up to a 65-day target. Be cautious: If it is too long (70 days or longer), animals are at risk of excessive weight gain and at higher risk of metabolic disease at the time of calving, leading to elevated risk of early lactation removal.
    • If you increase days dry by two weeks, you’ll reduce days milking by 3.3% and total milk flow by 2.5%, which equals a reduction of 1.6 pounds per cow per day.
  • Feed more whole milk to your calves:
  • I’ve estimated that, on average, there are 15,000 heifer calves born in the U.S. per day. If we feed them 2.5 gallons of whole milk per day and increase the feeding period to 60 days, over the course of a year, we would remove nearly 6.5 billion pounds, or 3% of the U.S. milk supply.
  • Where facilities and system allow, by extending the feeding period to 90 days and 3 gallons per head per day, we would repurpose more than 4% of supply.

Using the examples above, we have the opportunity to decrease (5.25+1.6+1.9) 8.75 pounds per cow per day — or 13.7% — without culling any cows.

Keep animal well-being a priority.

  • Healthy animals matter more than ever, because only healthy cows make money. Don’t skimp on it: Put a strong vaccination program in place, take a complete approach to defending cows during dry off and intervene quickly to treat sick animals as appropriate, boosting the likelihood of a successful outcome. If we crunch the numbers:
    • Over the last 30 years, the average cow has returned $250 per year in net farm income.*,2,3 In the broadest of terms, let’s agree that all diseases of dairy cost $250 per incident, with the exception of a displaced abomasum (DA), which cost $500.
    • 50% of all cows receive an antibiotic treatment over the course of a lactation.4
    • If the average cow returns $250, and half the cows lose $250 to disease, then we have two populations of cows in our herds: those that make $0 and those that make $500. We want a herd with more $500 cows than $0 cows.
      • This does not mean that you should not treat sick cows. In many cases, treatment can lead to a rapid return to profitability for a given cow.
  • Talk with your nutritionist about what other adjustments you can make to rations without depriving your herd’s nutrient requirements.

Continue building a resilient, profitable herd.

  • It’s critical to keep investing in a robust reproductive program in your heifers and cows. Feed and breed to optimize age at first calving and maintain efficient breeding programs to reduce the amount of time spent in the low end of the lactation curve.
  • Now, more than ever, we need to embrace using genomics to focus on raising the best animals — the animals with the greatest opportunity to perform and compete for space in our herds for the long run.

Helping you meet challenges during challenging times. 

While the world rapidly responds to unprecedented events, Zoetis stands ready to support you in caring for the well-being of your animals. There has been no impact on the supply of Zoetis products at this time, so you can depend on us for the help you need while running your dairy operation. Also, our customer service and product support teams are working remotely, so they are available for you without disruption. Looking beyond this season, you should know that all of our manufacturing sites remain open as businesses deemed essential by governments around the world. We continue to make the products producers have trusted.

You can count on Zoetis for high-quality products and services to help ensure the lasting health of your herd. Work with your farm’s key advisors to discuss how to manage your herd’s milk production more effectively against a limited base.

* Results based on average herd size of 1,087, from Zoetis/Compeer Financial study

1 National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), Agricultural Statistics Board, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Milk Production. Accessed April 23, 2020.

2 Lormore M. The case for a quality dairy replacement program, in Proceedings. NRAES Dairy Calves and Heifers: Integrating Biology and Management Conference, 2005.

3 Lormore M. What Drives Financial Success on a Dairy? Parsippany, NJ: Zoetis; 2018.

4 Pinedo P, Santos J, Schuenemann G, et al. Early lactation disease incidence in Holstein cows across multiple US regions. J. Dairy Sci. 2015;98:507.



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