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Animal Health & Nutrition

RSS By: Rick Lundquist, Dairy Today

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. He provides livestock production advice.

Timing is Everything: Milk Production and Day Length

Jan 04, 2010

by Rick Lundquist

It’s a new year and, I hope, a better year for the dairy business. As we start 2010, one thing is for sure – the days are getting longer again. That’s good news for your milk production.

There’s a radio show host out of St. Paul who talks about the Royal Order of the 21sters. This tongue-in-cheek society considers the arrival of spring to be Dec. 22 because that’s when the days start getting longer (rather than the official start in March). According to the Royal Order, autumn is a long and lingering season between June 22 and Nov. 1, followed by winter during the dark months of November and December.  Dairy producers might inherently be members of this Royal Order too.

The following graph shows the monthly U.S. milk production over the past few years.

As you can see, milk production follows day length pretty closely. As nutritionists, we are very aware of this phenomenon. Dairy producers get pretty anxious for better production in the fall after the weather cools off and cows begin eating more. But milk production often doesn’t really take off until late fall or early winter.

I used to think this phenomenon was exclusive to the South, where most of my clients are. We used to blame it on the long hot summers that took a toll on the cows. They needed time to recoup before they really started pumping out milk, we thought. Although summer stress certainly contributes to stale autumn production, consultants from Northern states where summers are much shorter report the same lag.

Why the correlation between day length and milk production? Hormones. Cows, like other animals, respond to photoperiod sensitive hormones that influence both lactation and breeding as well as other body functions.

Any good feed salesperson – in fact, anyone in the dairy business who sells a product or service that’s designed to increase milk production – needs to study this graph. Timing is everything. November and December are good months to make good impressions. On the other hand, dairy producers too should be aware (or wary) of this phenomenon because it happens every year.   

Reference: Brian Gould, Agricultural and Applied Economics, UW Madison.

Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at

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COMMENTS (4 Comments)

Oh and 9;35 - he didn't say 100 lb average - he said cows can milk over 100 lbs, as in peak. I can believe cows milking well on that diet, cows were meant to make milk from forages, not grains so much. We feed a 60% Forage ration, and I wouldn't mind going to 65%.
7:55 PM Jan 9th
Hi 7:56, I'd like to discuss some more with you when you have time. Just wondering what exactly you are feeding? High quality forages, I assume, but can you give an idea of how good? How many cows do you milk? Its not that co-ops won't tell you, its that feed mills won't tell you!! Sounds like amazing components! What is your average peak milk on all cows, and particularily on older cows?
7:53 PM Jan 9th
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