University of Kentucky College of Agriculture

Management of High Milk Production Kentucky Dairy Herds

By:  Alison Smith, Curtis Coombs, and Jeffrey Bewley          Printable Version

         One of the best ways to learn is to examine the practices of other successful people.  We interviewed managers of the top Kentucky milk production herds to characterize management practices employed by these farmers. Twenty-four dairy producers with a minimum rolling herd average milk production of 22,000 pounds were selected for this project.  These farms represented the top DHI milk production herds in Kentucky at the time of the survey.  Herd size ranged from 25 to 1590 lactating cows with an average of 191 cows, demonstrating that high milk production can be achieved in both small and large Kentucky herds. 

         Producers were asked questions to characterize their operation (Table 1).  Nine producers (39%) conducted a monthly veterinary check.  Nineteen producers (83%) conducted forage tests on every new forage and all surveyed producers analyzed forages at some point.  Forage analyses allow dairy producers to maximize use of homegrown forages and maintain a balanced ration as forage nutrient content changes.  Seventeen producers (74%) used a freestall barn as their primary housing for the lactating herd.  Fifteen producers (35%) used a partial confinement production system as opposed to total-confinement or pasture grazing system.  Fourteen producers (61%) milked their cows in a herringbone parlor.  Twenty producers (86%) trim hooves at least annually and three (14%) never trim hooves. 

        Management practices employed by the surveyed producers are reported in Table 2.  They are categorized by milking practices, management practices and tools, and feed additives.  The top milking practices were drying teats before attaching milker, dry treating all quarters of all cows, pre-dipping, and post-dipping.  All producers in the survey dried teats before attaching milking units and dry treated all quarters of all cows.  Twenty-two (95.7%) of the producers in the survey used pre-dip and post-dip.  Twenty producers (87%) used individual towels to dry the teats.

         The top management practices were regular forage testing, use of fans, heat detection aids, and use of artificial insemination on heifers.  All producers used regular forage testing.  Twenty-one producers in the survey indicated that they have fans or sprinklers in place for cow cooling.  Twenty-one (91%) producers also use heat detection aids.  Among feed additives, twenty-one (91%) producers used rumen buffers, nineteen (83%) used yeast cultures, fifteen (65%) used organic or chelated minerals, and fifteen (65%) producers used mycotoxin bindersThirteen (56%) producers in the survey indicated that they use a computer program for record keeping.  During each survey, producers were asked to identify the one management practice that contributed the most to their milk production level (Table 3).  The most frequently cited reasons were (1) attention to detail, (2) nutrition, (3) cow comfort, and (4) quality forages. The response of “attention to detail” demonstrates the importance of management ability in attaining high milk production.  Obviously, this trait is difficult to quantify but demonstrates that an attitude of excellence contributes to high milk yield. 

Table 1.  Management characteristics for high milk production herds.

Production system

Milking frequency

System

n

Percent

Times per day

n

Percent

Pasture-grazing

0

0%

2X

17

74%

Partial confinement

15

65%

3X

6

26%

Total confinement

8

35%

4X or 6X fresh cows

1

4%

Housing system

Parlor setup

System

n

Percent

Parlor

n

Percent

New (<10 years) or modern free stall barn(s)

17

74%

Herringbone

14

61%

Compost bedded pack (sawdust) housing

4

17%

Parallel

4

17%

Tie stall or stanchion barn

3

14%

Stanchion

3

14%

Bedded pack (straw) housing

1

4%

Side-opening

1

4%

Parabone

1

4%

Veterinary check

Forage testing

System

n

Percent

System

n

Percent

Monthly

9

39%

With new forages

19

83%

< Monthly

7

31%

Harvest

4

17%

> Monthly

6

26%

Monthly

2

9%

Blood test

1

4%

Seldom

2

7%

Hoof trimming

Heifer raising

System

n

Percent

System

n

Percent

Trim hooves at least annually

20

86%

Heifers raised on farm

20

86%

Never trim hooves

3

14%

Heifers raised off farm

3

14%

Table 2.  Management practices employed by high milk production herds

Milking practices

Number of herds

Percent

Dry teats before attaching milker

23

100%

Dry treat all quarters of all cows

23

100%

Pre-dip

22

96%

Post –dip

22

96%

Individual paper or cloth towels

20

87%

Gloves worn by employees

19

83%

Automatic take-offs

19

83%

Analyze milking system at least annually

19

83%

Submit milk samples for bacteriological culturing

13

57%

Written milking routine posted

4

17%

Management practices and tools

Number of herds

Percent

Regular forage testing

23

100%

Use of fans

21

91%

Heat detection aids

21

91%

Use of artificial insemination on heifers

20

87%

Rations balanced at least yearly

20

87%

Sexed semen

17

74%

Separate groups for far off and close up cows

16

70%

Kernel processor

16

70%

Computerized dairy management software program

13

57%

Push up feed regularly

12

52%

Financial benchmarking program

12                                          

                  52%

Feed Additives

Number of herds

Percent

Rumen buffers

21

91%

Yeast cultures

18

78%

Organic/chelated minerals

15

65%

Mycotoxin binders

15

65%

Bypass fats

13

57%

Ionophores

13

57%

Direct fed microbials

10

43%

Anionic salts

8

35%

Table 3.  “What one management practice has contributed most to your current level of production?”

Practice

Number of herds

Practice

Number of herds

Attention to detail

8

Good employees

1

Nutrition

5

Modernization

1

Cow comfort

4

Keeping SCC low

1

Quality forages

4

Sand

1

Record keeping

3

Soakers

1

Genetics

3

Total mixed ration

1

Consistency

2

Nutritionist

1