Winter Milk Slump Can Be Avoided

Dairy specialist has suggestions for evaluating, avoiding milk production declines

Published on: Dec 13, 2013

If your herd has experienced a drop in milk production this fall and winter, it may be time to evaluate herd management strategies, says Dr. Andy Fielding, senior dairy technical consultant with Purina Animal Nutrition.

Fielding says he often receives phone calls from dairy producers wondering what happened to their milk production as the fall and winter months approach.

"Some herds may simply be dealing with a combination of fresh and stale cows, while others may be dealing with results of decisions made earlier in the year that are impacting milk production," says Fielding. "The challenge is to determine what the root cause is."

Fielding says areas to evaluate include:

Low starch content in dairy silage may be a good place to start if you are concerned about a early winter milk slump
Low starch content in dairy silage may be a good place to start if you are concerned about a early winter milk slump

Days in milk

Be aware of the dichotomy of the herd - fresh versus stale cows, Fielding suggests.

"If a herd is looking purely at average days in milk, they can be misled about what's happening within the herd," he says. Keeping tabs on DIM will allow you to make sure the nutritional needs of the herd are met.

"If your herd feeds one ration, make sure it is dialed in for the majority. If your herd feeds multiple rations by stage of lactation, make sure the fresh cow ration was designed for this group of cows," Fielding notes.

Silage inventories

Ideally, silage should ferment for at least 6 months. With a shorter fermentation window, less starch will be available in the silage.

"Oftentimes herds do not have much carryover in silage inventory, some can only let the silage ferment for one month," Fielding says. "If you've had to incorporate new crop silage into the ration, it can have a significant impact on milk production if it's not managed properly."

Body condition score

Cows should be going dry at a body condition score of 3.0 to 3.5 and freshening at the same BCS.

"You don't want to lose or gain weight during the dry period," says Fielding. Evaluate body condition scores, to see if this is an area of improvement in your herd, he suggests.

Source: Purina