Managing Peak Milk Production Nutrition


Nutrition and health of the cow within the first 40 days can have a significant impact on their peak milk production and subsequent lactation performance and, as a result, on the overall performance of the herd. So if the calving date was in mid-February then peak milk production will be in late March, early April, but for the mid-March and April calvers this will be mid to late May.

Meeting the needs of cows in early lactation to reach peak production is vital on profitability. Generally for every 1-1.5 kg reduction in milk produced at peak will reduce yield over the whole lactation by approximately 150-200 kg of milk per cow when persistency is managed. That could reduce milk sales worth up to €7,500 for a 100 cow herd (based on the current base milk price).

Factors that impact peak performance

Providing optimum dry matter intake (DMI) is a key objective in the effort getting her back into a positive energy balance quickly to minimise body condition score (BCS) losses and maximise milk solids production. A useful target for BCS loss over this period is < 0.5 of a BCS. When achieved it is rewarded in more milk, better reproductive performance and reduced feed costs later in the season when BCS has to be restored.

As the rumen is restricted in size until 70-80 days in milk, concentrate supplementation is critical to consume enough energy during this period. Concentrates are both high in dry matter and energy dense. The response to concentrate supplementation is optimum over the first 120 days in milk and in particular over the first 80 days due to this restriction on intakes regardless of whether cows are housed or grazing. 

Grass intake

Maximise intakes by providing the highest energy forages available to you. The more digestible the forage the higher the energy content. Grass is the most digestible and cheapest forage available. The more grass you can get into your cow’s diets the better both for meeting her requirements but also for the pocket.  It will support higher levels of production while maximising milk protein percentage and minimising BCS loss.

While grass supplies energy in a form of sugar, grass lacks energy in the form of starch. Providing starch as a component in the cow’s diet will increase total fermentable carbohydrates, which leads to increased blood glucose and insulin - the precursors to lactose (more milk) and increased milk protein percentage.

At this time of the year grass must be rationed. If we over allocate grass early in the first grazing rotation, we will run down grass covers too quickly, running out of grass before grass growth has picked up to meet the herds demand. Concentrate fed in balance with grass help maximise intakes and production.

Be wary of over estimating the grass intake. Wet grass can significantly curtail dry matter intakes, reducing energy intakes if the gap is not filled with high DM feed such as high DMD silage and concentrates.   

Mineral supplementation

During this period, don’t forget the vitamin and mineral requirement that concentrates can supply. The requirement for calcium remains high as does magnesium. Grass can be low in magnesium or high in potassium resulting in interference of magnesium uptake. This increases the risk of grass tetany. Also keep an eye on trace minerals and vitamins for immune function, hooves and reproductive performance.

In summary, the first 8-12 weeks is the time where nutrition can help improve not only milk performance but also reproductive performance and fertility. If we don’t feed the cow enough energy in early lactation she will lose too much BCS in the 1st 8 weeks after calving and herd milk and fertility performance will be disappointing.

For more information on the GAIN Animal Nutrition range, contact your local Tirlán FarmLife Business Manager.

First Published 26th February 2024

Tagged with: Dairy


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