Transformations go on around us every day on the dairy – heifers become cows, grass becomes hay and fall weather quickly turns to the bitter cold of winter. But, over the last year, we’ve seen even bigger changes in the dairy industry.

Dr. Jim Spain, associate professor of Animal Sciences at the University of Missouri, says dairy producers have seen numerous changes that can effect how milk is produced: high feed costs coupled with high milk prices, droughts, heat stress and changing markets. Plus, consumers have more influence on how food is produced and have forced changes in the technologies available to dairy producers. All of these challenges have created opportunities for producers to examine new ways to make up lost production and maintain profitability.

Spain notes that there are two places to focus your time when looking to make up for all of these adverse changes and push milk production higher: the ration your cows are eating and management practices that affect the cow’s day-to-day activities.

Focus on the ration

If dairy producers have to choose one place to make changes to improve production, Spain says to focus on improving nutrition. Since feed is the largest cost and has the most direct effect on production, taking a different approach to feeding can help you reap more profit. Focus on the following nutritional areas to boost production:


Allocate forage.

Fresh and high-producing cows need the best feed available. With freshly harvested forages, now is the time to feed the right forages to the right cows. According to Spain, separating cows by lactation or production level enables producers to allocate the highest-quality forages to the cows who need it the most.

Keep the rumen healthy.

To drive intake, give rumen microbes what they need.

•Intake can be improved by providing a readily available source of amino acids, peptides and nonprotein nitrogen for rumen microbial bugs. This promotes feed efficiency and milk protein production.

•A University of Illinois study showed that rations formulated with a positive DCAD between +34 and +40 meq/100 grams ration dry matter (DM) resulted in 3.2 additional pounds of milk per cow per day in the first 100 days of milk. Feeding a safe, proven source of potassium carbonate is the most effective method to reach optimal DCAD levels.

Feedbunk management

Cows spend a major portion of their day eating at the feed bunk. Increasing DMI drives higher milk production. Managing the feedbunk by pushing feed up on a frequent basis and ensuring ration quality by keeping the feed out of the heat or rain can improve intakes. Also, research shows that placing rubber mats in front of the feedbunks helps cow comfort, encouraging them to stand at the bunk longer – spending more time eating.

Feeding program can affect reproduction.

It’s important to get cows bred back so they maintain productivity and profitability. Many management areas affect reproduction management, including formulating the right ration.

Research conducted at the University of Arizona showed just how important Omega-3 and Omega-6 essential fatty acids (EFAs) are for reproductive performance. Researchers found that supplementing cows with Omega-3 and Omega-6 EFAs reduces uterine health disorders, facilitates earlier ovulations, while helping cows to show more estrous cycles and become pregnant faster.

Management changes to boost production

To ensure cows produce at high levels, your herd should have enough space, plenty of clean water and a comfortable environment. Dr. Spain offers the following suggestions to enhance production:

The right stall.

“Cows with adequately sized, clean and comfortable stalls can improve the time spent lying down and producing milk, while decreasing foot and leg problems,” Spain says. Cows that are lying in clean stalls will also have a lower instance of environmental mastitis. Producers should consult their veterinarian or nutrition consultant to get advice on proper stall sizing for their herd.

Let there be light.

Research has shown that exposing bred heifers to 16 hours of light produced 1,650 more pounds of 305-day projected, fat-corrected milk than those that only had eight hours of light. A University of Maryland study found that lactating cows exposed to 18 hours of continuous light improved milk production by almost 5 pounds per day. Even with the added costs of electricity and lighting, research found that adding additional lighting can increase profits.

Create space … for everyone.

Without the right amount of space, cows won’t be able to eat or lay down as much. At high stocking densities, dominant cows get the best of what’s available while subordinate cows are the ones that often suffer. Stocking rates above 110 percent can result in adverse performance across the entire group.

Even though change happens every day on your dairy farm, focusing on the ration along with the right management practices can enhance production while maintaining optimal health. In the midst of change, the solution to providing consistency is rather simple: Give cows what they need nutritionally and keep them comfortable to let them do what they do best – make more and higher- quality milk. PD

References omitted but are available upon request at