Managing Production with DHI Data

While we have begun to see some improvement in milk prices, there are still some farms that are being asked to maintain a lower level of production than they are used to.  Many industry leaders have cautioned the importance of balanced production when it comes to sustaining an ideal milk price. Some are choosing to reach these goals by decreasing production while others may choose to find an alternative use for excess milk.

If you are working to decrease or maintain decreased production, here are a few strategies you might try:

Decreasing milking frequency from 3 to 2 times a day, or even 2 to 1 time a day.

Decreasing from 3 to 2 milkings a day for the whole herd can reduce production by 7-10 lbs per cow. You might also decide to decrease milkings only for certain groups within the herd. If this is the case, use your DHI data to determine production levels for each cow. Consider choosing cows that are milking at half the herd average or less. Decreasing milkings may also free up labor for other tasks on the farm such as feeding calves. Keep in mind that decreasing milkings may increase SCC and instances of mastitis. Be sure to monitor these cows closely and maintain a regular DHI test day interval for accurate records.

Reduce the number of cows being milked by drying cows off early.

Another way to reduce production is too reduce the number of cows being milked. If you aren’t looking to decrease your herd size, this can be accomplished by drying cows off early. You may choose to extend dry off to 74 days instead of 60, or even 90-120 days if you can support that with a bulky diet. Alternatively, you may choose to milk cows that are close to dry off just one time a day, which can also offset some feed costs. When drying cows off early, beware of over conditioning has this can cause more problems down the road.

Reduce the number of cows you are milking through culling.

One of the more obvious ways to decrease production and the number of cows being milked is by culling. If you choose to cull, be sure to use your DHI data to make informed culling decisions. Look for cows that are chronic high SCC contributors (over 200,000), cows who are milking below breakeven pounds, those who are low component producers (your DHI technician can help you rank your herd by components), and of course your do not breed cows.

While culling cows can be an effective short term solution to decreasing production, there are a few things to keep in mind. By decreasing the size of the herd, you may actually see production increase as more room is made in the barn. While this may not help lower the amount of milk being produced, it certainly has the potential to increase the efficiency of production and lower the cost of inputs per pound of milk.

Regardless of which strategy or combination of strategies you use, it’s important to make sure you are making informed management decisions. Your DHI technician can work with you to create custom reports that deliver the comparative data needed to make these decisions. If you aren’t on test, contact the service manager for your area to schedule your next test day.