I have to cut milk production. Now what?

Posted: May 6, 2020 | Written By: Tim Kinches, Form-A-Feed Technical Service Specialist

cut milk production

2020 has seen some unprecedented markets, actions, and now mandates reducing the amount of milk sold by a farm. While there are many options to accomplish reducing milk volume for the short-term, it is important not to make drastic decisions, but to consider what is best for your operation. A combined approach of culling cows to clean up the bottom end of the herd, drying cows early, and increasing forage in the ration to save on purchased costs is a great short-term strategy. If a long-term solution is needed, more permanent measures should be looked at such as reducing the amount of youngstock, frequency of milking, and labor.

Consider this scenario: A herd of 250 cows milking 85 lbs. milk/day needs to reduce the amount of milk it can sell by 10%. Last month the herd sold 658,750 lbs. of milk – meaning 65,875 lbs. of milk (or approximately 2,125 lbs. of milk/day needs to be eliminated.

  • Early Dry: this herd usually has 38 dry cows in the system (15% of its herd size) at any one time using a 60 Day dry period. They typically dry off 5 cows/week. If they go to a 67 Day dry period, they will take five extra cows out of the herd. These five cows produce an average of 65 lbs. of milk, so that is 325 lbs. of milk out of the herd.
  • Culling Cows: This herd has a 5% DNB rate which equals 12 cows that are DNB cows. They are milking fairly well at 70 lbs. and that is why they are still in the herd. If we cull these 12 cows that is a reduction of 840 lbs. of milk each day.

Now there are 233 cows left in the herd and a reduction of 1165 lbs. of milk/day.  We still need to cut 960 lbs. of milk in the remaining 233 cows (approximately 4.1 lbs. of milk/day).

  • Rations: Many ration strategies need to be looked at based on cost savings, forage inventory, and commodity availability. It is important to fully understand your forage inventory. You must know how many tons of forage you have and will use the remaining months until new crop – be conservative with your inventory. You do not want to set yourself up for a situation that you are counting on a bumper crop of a forage and it does not happen. Once you have a detailed inventory of all current forages and planned harvested forages you can then decide how much more or less forage you can feed. Feeding more forage will reduce concentrate cost and more importantly in times like this, purchased feed cost. At some point feeding more forage will result in a loss of milk. You are feeding an ingredient in forage that sometimes is less digestible and more expensive on a dry matter ton than the commodity that it is replacing. Thus, losing milk but cutting purchased cost. Cutting $0.30/cow/day in total ration cost by feeding more forage and less purchased cost, but losing 4 lbs. of milk may be a loss, but you could be saving $0.15-$0.20/cow/day in purchased feed cost which can really help cash flow. If you cannot feed more forage due to forage inventory restrictions, then ration nutritional strategies need to be looked at. It is not as simple as just cutting fat, starch, or energy. We need to maintain cow condition but lower milk output.

Some other options that can be considered to reduce milk for longer periods of time:

  • Create a Low Pen: Some farms have the ability to create a low pen – a pen that can go to a milking 2x/day. This pen would be for cows that are late into the lactation cycle and are within 3-5 weeks of dryoff. Moving this pen to milking 2x/day will drop 8-10% if not more of their milk production.
  • Lower DNB Thresholds: Most farms have a max limit of services before the cow is considered a DNB. Lowering the number of services by one, will increase your DNB rate and thus give you more options of cows to cull.
  • Reducing Springer Population: While reducing the springer population by culling or moving non-pregnant animals to beef lots is not an immediate solution to cutting milk today, it could help you in the future control inventory to reduce milk.

Notice that cutting this milk for the short-term did not involve making radical moves like having the entire herd to move to milking 2x/day or culling 25 random cows. The short-term changes that need to be made can be implemented with the intention that mandates on milk reduction will come to an end and operations can be easily turned back to the way it was. At Form-A-Feed we are here to help in any way we can. We have the resources to work with you to figure out the best game plan for your farm and business. Please contact your Form-A-Feed nutritionist to start the conversation and gather resources to help you.