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Is your milk production flat this fall?

00:00AM Oct 13, 2008
Rick Lundquist

Are you discouraged about your milk production in the fall?  The weather has cooled off, but the cows don't seem to be coming up in milk like they should?  I hear this a lot from dairy producers and nutritionists. I've experienced this over the years and heard the concern. It can be a tough time of the year for dairy producers and stressful for their nutritionists too.  I used to think it was just a phenomenon in the South due to the long, hot summers. But I hear the same complaints from nutritionists and dairy producers in the North too.

Cows start eating more this time of the year because of cooler weather, but many times feed efficiency doesn't improve or may actually decrease. Each dairy is different, so I wouldn't necessarily rule out ration imbalances, but it may not be ration related. So what are some possible reasons for your milk not bouncing back when the cooler weather arrives?

Cows may take some time to recuperate from the stress of production during the summer. Body tissues may require re-nourishment. This may be one reason for higher intake without the commensurate production gain.

Herds tend to be staler this time of year. Many herds freshen heavily in the fall, but also have a lot of dry cows and late lactation cows. Or your average days in milk may look ok, but if you look at a scatter plot of the herd, you may have mostly very fresh cows that haven't peaked yet and very stale cows, but not much in between. So the average doesn't really tell the whole story.

My theory involves photoperiod. Day length is decreasing rapidly this time of year. Photoperiod affects animals in the wild, from seasonal breeders to bird migration. Cows are no different. Photoperiod affects hormonal status of the animal, so hormones responsible for milk production may be affected. This may explain the "spring flush” too, when day length is rapidly increasing.

If your milk production is flat or fresh cow starts are lagging this fall, I would caution about over reacting. Make sure your rations are balanced but don't try to force production by increasing grain too much at the expense of forage. This could cause health problems later on. Be patient, feed a balanced ration and let the milk come naturally.

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

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