Effects of varying lactation length on milk production capacity of cows in pasture-based dairying systems.

Research paper by M J MJ Auldist, G G O'Brien, D D Cole, K L KL Macmillan, C C Grainger

Indexed on: 22 Jun '07Published on: 22 Jun '07Published in: Journal of Dairy Science


The aim of this experiment was to quantify the milk production capacity of cows undergoing extended lactations while fed a pasture-based diet typical of those used in the seasonal-calving dairying systems of Victoria, Australia. One hundred twenty-five Holstein cows were randomly assigned to 1 of 5 groups. Breeding was progressively delayed after calving to enable management of the groups for lactation lengths of 10, 13, 16, 19, and 22 mo (equivalent to calving intervals of 12 to 24 mo). Cows were provided with a daily energy intake of at least 180 MJ of metabolizable energy/cow. This was supplied primarily by grazed pasture with supplementary cereal grain, pasture silage, and hay. Cows were dried off when milk volume fell below 30 kg/wk or when they reached 56 d before their expected calving date. Most cows (>96%) could lactate above this threshold for 16 mo, >80% for 19 mo, and >40% for 22 mo. There were negative relationships between lactation length and annual production of milk and milk solids (milk fat + protein), but losses were small until 16 mo. Annualized yields of milk solids were 497, 498, 495, 474, and 463 kg/cow for the 10, 13, 16, 19, and 22 mo groups, respectively. This reduction in annual production of milk solids with increasing lactation length was relatively less than for milk volume because during extended lactation, cows produced milk with higher concentrations of protein. Cows undergoing extended lactations also finished their lactations having gained more body weight and body condition than cows lactating for only 10 mo. The data showed that many cows on pasture-based diets were capable of lactating longer than the 10 mo that is standard for Victorian herds with seasonally concentrated calving patterns. Further, such extended lactations could be achieved with little penalty in terms of annual milk solids production.