Editor’s note: The following benchmarks have been compiled using data reported by dairies enrolled in Alta Genetic’s AltaAdvantage program, a progeny testing program. More than 182,500 cows in 175 herds participate in the program nationwide.

Cookies and cream. Bread and butter. Many would argue that you can’t have one without the other. The same is true about production and reproduction. Progressive dairy managers don’t want one without the other!

In this benchmarking article, I’ll addressing a key point in progressive dairy management – managing for high production and high reproduction.

Revenue means more than just milk
An obvious goal for the progressive dairy manager is to increase the amount of milk produced. However, especially as we move into summer, it is increasingly obvious that production alone does not equal profit.

If too much emphasis is placed on increasing production, then managers can push their cows too hard and cause increased rates of costly transition cow problems, including displaced abomasums, ketosis, metritis, retained placenta, or other problems like acidosis and reduced reproductive efficiency. It is still valuable to monitor productive capacity on the leading dairies, but it is also important to pay attention to the impact of high production on reproduction – especially as we enter the hot summer months.


Milk production and reproductive performance on top-tier herds
Milk production is a huge focus point for dairy herds in our AltaAdvantage program. These dairies average more than 26,000 pounds of milk per cow, which surpasses the average per-cow production of dairies in the 23 major dairy states by about 6,000 pounds. Naturally, more revenue per cow is generated on these dairies. At the same time, dairies in the top 25 percent of the program produce nearly 3,000 pounds more milk per cow of component rich milk compared to the other dairies in the program (see Table 1*).

This performance is more impressive when you look at how these dairies manage through the summer heat.

Summer heat normally takes its toll on production and reproduction (see Figure 1*). For the average dairy in our program, daily milk production declines by about 5 pounds per day and conception rates drop by 4 percent between June and September. In contrast, dairies in the top quarter of our program hold performance throughout the summer period, essentially avoiding the costly “summer effect.”

Manage for both
Herds that can maintain a constant high level of production and maintain a high pregnancy rate are those herds that clearly have a good heat abatement strategy and have the best chance to maximize profit throughout the summer.

What can you implement on your dairy to manage for both? To serve as guidance, we look at what the herds that kept a minimum 20 percent pregnancy rate and maintained a minimum 90-pound tank average do during summer’s heat.

• A commitment to heat abatement
These herds have fans and soakers in their freestall barns and holding areas. Many have fans above both the stalls and the feed alley.

• Limited overcrowding
These herds generally have less than 110 percent overcrowding to maximize cow comfort.

• Heat detection
Cows show fewer and less visible signs of estrus during hot summer months. These dairies have more frequent and rigorous heat detection protocols to maintain reproductive performance.

• Limit time in the holding area
One of the hottest areas on the farm is often the holding pen when cows are crowded together. These dairies limit the time (less than 60 minutes) cows spend in this situation, maximizing resting time for the cows.

• Sand bedding
With very few exceptions, herds with 90-pound tank averages and 20 percent pregnancy rates bed with sand – again maximizing cow comfort.

• Enough water space
Cows require more water in the summer, and they consume more if they don’t have to compete to get access to the water trough. These dairies provide ample water space.

• Feed multiple times per day
A common practice in these herds is to feed multiple times per day – a fresh batch of feed when it starts to cool down in the evening drives up feed intakes.

• A commitment to nutrition and a committed nutritionist
Intakes drop during extended hot periods, so these dairies have a commitment to modifying rations to account for intake changes.

Drive your revenue through the summer
Milk production is what drives revenue on the modern dairy. But the rate and efficiency of reproduction is a significant driver of milk production. Heat abatement, cow comfort, heat detection and responsive nutrition programs all help reduce the costly impact of the “summer effect.” PD

Table and Figure omitted but are available upon request to editor@progressivedairy.com.