Effective dairy cattle management brings many benefits to your business. In particular, with the right management techniques, you can increase your cows’ milk production naturally and in a cost-effective manner, strengthening your revenue stream without compromising the health, comfort, and well-being of your herd. Increasing milk production starts with taking a close look at dairy cattle nutrition. What—and how—are you feeding your cows?
There are many cow care and feeding processes that can lead to missing out on milk and profit—but conversely, there are plenty of practices that can help you recover lost milk and profit at any price. Let’s take a look at a few of those practices:
What is the best feed for dairy cows?
Knowing what to feed cows to give more milk is essential to choosing dairy cattle nutrition practices that naturally boost milk production. The best feed for cows to increase milk production is typically high-quality forage and corn silage with the proper proportions of starch availability and digestibility.
Forage Quality for Dairy Cows
Forage quality is an essential quality to look for when selecting the best feed for dairy cows to increase milk production, and high-quality corn silage and other cereal forage crops hit the mark.
Small grain forages are more than just a good double-cropping option for your farm, but an excellent source of nutrition for your dairy cattle as well as an excellent way to add a high yield of highly digestible fiber to your rotation. More floury starch hybrids often yield the best results.
Not only do winter small grains give you a chance to bring extra tonnage from the same land area, but they also have very high NDF (Neutral Detergent Fiber) values and low uNDF240 (undigested NDF after 240 hours). Winter small grains may also have a lower probability of butyric acid formation compared to alfalfa silages.
By replacing poor forage with highly digestible cereal silage, your dairy cattle management practices can potentially achieve up to five more pounds of milk. In addition, one pound of rumen digestible starch can yield 2.7 lbs of milk.
Starch Availability for Dairy Cattle
In the case of corn silage, starch availability is a big predictor of how well it feeds. 20-30 percent of the starch value depends on the amount of processing and grinding prior to feeding or ensiling. Kernel processing scores (KPS) can be a helpful guideline.
Starch digestibility may differ among hybrids from 0 to 90 days in the silo depending in part on kernel processing, but all come together at about 200 days.
Fiber Digestibility in Dairy Cattle Nutrition
There’s more to NDF than we often think, and this goes for all forages. Fast and slow pools and uNDF240 are both essential to understanding fiber digestibility and the role it plays in choosing the best feed for cows to increase milk production.
Low uNDF240 is critical to predicting fiber digestion in cows, with high uNDF240 almost always correlating with reduced milk production. Even though no feedstuffs remain in the cow for that length of time, analysis of uNDF240 helps predict KP and KD rates in high milk-producing cows and assists in understanding the total kinetics of NDF digestion.
Choosing What to Feed a Cow to Give More Milk
Based on this information, do you now know what to feed a cow to produce more milk?
You want high-quality small-grain cereal forage crops with very high NDF and very low uNDF240 rates, as well as high starch availability. For example, barley, oat, rye, wheat, or triticale silage provide an excellent balance of fiber and starch for increasing milk production.
Make sure to regularly test forage samples for NDF, uNDF240, and starch content to assess their suitability for your cows and optimize your dairy cattle nutrition.
Other Factors That Increase Dairy Cattle Milk Production
Knowing what to feed cows to increase milk production is not the full story when it comes to dairy cattle management, however. As critical as dairy cattle nutrition is, it’s one part of a larger equation that includes many more aspects of cattle management you can’t overlook.
Cow Comfort and Management
Forage is king, but comfort is queen. Ensuring that cows have access to feed, water, and resting areas is essential to maintaining their comfort and helping to maximize milk production. Every hour of rest for a cow equals about 3.7 pounds of milk.
Effective time management is a crucial part of dairy cattle management for optimizing milk production:
- Cows should spend no more than four hours away from feed, water, and rest.
- At least 50 percent of their Dry Matter Intake (DMI) should be present before milking.
- Feed should be provided before milking for tie-stall herds.
- Minimize concrete or tile exposure during feeding to prevent milk value loss.
Maintaining Social Groups
Like people, cows need social groups, and proper dairy cattle management reflects this. Managing social groups among cows is important for their well-being and productivity—group changes can lead to stress that can lead to a loss of up to six pounds of milk per cow per day!
To maintain effective social groups, pen population size matters: 2-100 cows form a single group, 100-300 cows form two groups, and over 300 cows result in no social groups at all.
Tracking Critical Time Points: Breeding and Dry Period
Two crucial time points in cow management are breeding and the dry period; effective dairy cattle management for milk production must reflect this.
Heifers should follow a two-year growth cycle, with clean and dry maternity pens and calves in hutches. Wean calves in even numbers for their well-being and always form weaning groups of 20 or fewer. Initiate breeding at 13 months, ensuring vaccination and proper feeding practices.
Remember, cows do not cause problems; cow problems are caused by people.
Keep an eye on industry and internal benchmarks to stay aware of bottlenecks and flow rate problems among your cattle to continue optimizing your cattle for healthy, natural milk production.
Always Remember the Importance of Dairy Cattle Nutrition
Ultimately, while all factors are critical to increasing milk production and dairy cattle management is a key to productivity, recovering milk production starts in the field—with more and better forage.
King’s AgriSeeds emphasizes building a profitable operation on a foundation of high-energy forages grown on the farm. In our product selection process, we look for the genetics that lead to the most digestible products, helping our clients on dairy farms across the Northeastern US understand how to increase milk production in cows naturally and recover lost profit.