Indexed on: 27 Mar '10Published on: 27 Mar '10Published in: Journal of Dairy Science
Extending the lactation length of dairy cows beyond the traditional 10 mo toward lactations of up to 22 mo has attracted interest in the pasture-based seasonal dairying systems of Australia and New Zealand as a way of alleviating the need for cows to conceive during peak lactation, such as is required to maintain seasonally concentrated calving systems. Lactation lengths longer than 10 mo instead provide cows with more time to cycle and conceive after parturition and may therefore be more suitable systems for high-producing Holstein-Friesian cows. Before recommending such systems there is a need to evaluate the effects of long lactations on the suitability of milk for manufacture of high-quality dairy products. In the current experiment, the composition of milk from cows entering the second half of a 22-mo lactation was examined in detail and compared with that from cows undergoing a traditional 10-mo lactation. On 2 occasions, coagulation properties were measured using low amplitude strain oscillation rheometry, and Cheddar cheese was made in 250-L pilot-scale vats. Results showed that milk from extended lactations had higher concentrations of fat and protein than cows undergoing 10-mo lactations under similar management conditions and at the same time of year. The ratio of casein to true protein was not affected by lactation length and neither were the proportions of individual caseins. The increase in milk solids during extended lactations translated into a more rapid rate of coagulation and ultimately a firmer curd on one of the two occasions. Milk from extended lactations yielded more cheese per 100 kg of milk, and there were few differences in the composition or organoleptic properties of the cheese. These data are the first to show that pasture-based dairy industries could embrace the use of extended lactations without compromising the core business of producing high-quality dairy products.