Want your herd to move beyond 90 pounds of milk a day? According to Dr. Gordie Jones, the “game is to fill them up and lay them down.”

Jones spoke at the Four State Dairy Nutrition and Management Conference held in Dubuque, Iowa, in June.

He said many things help to determine milk yield besides rations. “Non-dietary factors account for 56 percent of the total milk yield,” he said, referring to a study where 47 herds with similar genetics were fed the same TMR. Non-dietary factors such as feed push-ups, feeding for a refusal rate of 5 percent, stall design and management, and age at first calving were all major factors.

“There are three things a cow should be doing,” Jones said. “She should stand to be milked, stand to eat and drink, and lay down. If she’s doing one of these things she’s making you money.”

If cows are not doing these things, Jones said the best way to troubleshoot is to think about what your cow’s 24-hour day looks like. When is she milked? How long does she spend in the holding pen and parlor? When is she fed? Is at least 50 percent of the dry matter consumed by the herd available upon returning from morning milking?

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She should not be spending more than four hours a day away from food. “You [the producer] get four hours a day; the cows get the other 20,” he said. The four hours away from feed also need to include such things as sorting pens, holding pens, breeding time, hoof care, palpation rail time and other herd health.

Jones said one of the most common failures he sees on farms is not making sure that cows have at least half of their dry matter intake when they exit from morning milking. And he stressed the importance of feeding your best feed to your best cows. Silage loses quality when exposed to the air, so the first feed mixed in the morning should go to the low production pen; then the fresh cows can have the freshest feed that morning.

He pointed out that the ancestors of the modern cow were prey. Cows are designed to eat as much as they can first thing in the morning and then move to a safe location to lie down and chew cud.

In addition to looking at your cow’s typical day, consider what a year looks like. How often does she experience pen or group changes? Cows lose up to 6 pounds of milk a day for two to three days every time they change social groups. How often is her ration changed? When is she bred? How long is she dry?

Another common mistake is not having enough waterers in freestalls; many freestall designs have three waterers when there really should be four. If there are more than 100 cows in a barn, they typically divide into two social groups, and Jones says each social group should have two waterers.

Freestall design is crucial. Jones said the main four reasons for “freestall fails” are lack of cushion, neck rail placement, lunge and bob space limitations, and lack of fresh air.

His recommendations for freestall design include 48-inch wide stalls, neck rail 48 inches above the height of the back curb, neck rail 68 inches from the back curb to contact with the neck rail, 16 feet from curb to curb,“nose to nose,” 68 inches to the brisket board and 2 inches above the back curb for the brisket board.

Wider stalls are often not better because cows lie diagonally in the stalls. They then defecate on the stall instead of the alley and lie in their own waste.

If the cows are lying diagonally, the set up can sometimes be corrected by putting two-by-fours on the side rails to prevent the cow from putting her head through.

“If a 28-inch loop is used with forward lunge, width is not as important. But a 39-inch loop from top to bottom lets the cow lie diagonally and may need some modification,” he said.

He also noted that bedding must be maintained level with the curb for the curb width to be “useable.” Once the bedding drops below the curb and useable bed length becomes 8 to 10 inches shorter, it is unacceptable to the cow.

Jones said a person should be able to fall to their knees in the area where the cows lie down and not experience pain. If it hurts to do that, then the cows need more padding or bedding.

Lack of fresh air can also be an issue. He told of a farm he recently visited where the cows were suffering simply because weeds had been allowed to grow up alongside the building, and it was disrupting the needed airflow.

Jones said not to underestimate the value of standard operating procedures. He said everyone should know and understand their job, and that everyone should be required to pass an exam (oral or written) about their job and how to do it. “When people know their jobs, they will be happier at their jobs.” PD

Kelli Boylen is a freelance writer in Waterville, Iowa.

Dr. Gordie Jones has 15 years of experience in dairy practice and spent more than 10 years working in dairy nutrition, facility and cow comfort consulting. He spent six years designing and managing Fair Oaks Dairy (20,000 cows), and five years ago he built and began managing his own dairy farm in Wisconsin – Central Sands Dairy.

PHOTO: Cows should not be spending more than four hours a day away from food. Photo by PD staff.