How to evaluate your dairy herd’s potential

ITHACA, N.Y. — The success of an operation depends on dairymen making correct decisions on an animal-by-animal basis.

“The challenge is to find the cow of interest that needs something special,” said Dave Barbano, professor in the Department of Food Science at Cornell University. “Then you need to make a decision and take the correct action.”

Milk production is the sum of the performance of all individual cows, Barbano said during a Hoard’s Dairyman webinar.

“We need to condense the data down to information that helps farmers make decisions and not be buried in a sea of numbers,” he said.

Over the last couple of months, Barbano said, a cow of interest study was completed that included 170 farms from across the U.S. Both bulk tank and individual cow samples were evaluated at several locations.

“We are getting a much better understanding of how to use milk fatty acid data for whole-herd management and milking group diagnostics,” Barbano said.

“We need high-frequency data, and we need to develop hardware and software to integrate this milk testing approach into the milking system on a continuous basis from every cow,” he stressed.

“The first thing that came to light when we started researching five years ago was a fairly strong correlation of the de novo fatty acids with the bulk tank fat test,” he said. “That seemed to tell us something about how well the cows were digesting forages.”

Management Tools

The researchers use an infrared milk analysis machine.

“It creates statistical models to extract information out of the fingerprint of the milk to measure fatty acids,” Barbano said. “It is a direct measurement of milk, there are no chemicals involved, the milk goes through the machine and we get answers.”

For the study in 2014, the researchers selected 10 low de novo and 10 high de novo herds of both Holstein and Jersey farms. To evaluate the farms, they took feed samples, farm management information, the amount of milk produced per cow and what they were doing to make this happen.

In 2015, the study was repeated with 40 Holstein farms that were either high or low de novo.

“The high de novo Holstein farms had nearly 4 percent fat compared to the low farms at 3.6 percent fat, and for the Jersey farms, the high de novo farms were nine-tenths of a percent higher in fat and half a percent higher in protein, which is huge in terms of cheese yield,” Barbano said. “And the high de novo herds produced more milk per cow.”

As a result, there was a gross income difference of $30,000 for the higher components of a 100-cow herd, he said.

The following year, for only the Holstein herds, the higher de novo herds had two-tenths of a percent higher fat and one-tenth higher protein.

“There was quite a difference in the milk price, so the higher de novo herds had nearly $15,000 difference in gross income,” Barbano said.

“Understanding how to influence components and get them up while not losing milk volume is really something to push better profitability on farms,” he said.


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