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Virginia Cooperative Extension - Knowledge for the CommonWealth

Fill The Stall Space With Productive Cows

Dairy Pipeline: December 2007

Bennet Cassell
Extension Dairy Scientist, Genetics & Management
(540) 231-4762;

The rational response to favorable milk prices is to increase production, by whatever means are available. One method is to cull less, calve in all available replacements, and maybe buy a few from the neighbors to expand cow numbers. This strategy is almost never accompanied by construction of more stall or bunk space or extra attention to udder health and reproduction. The goal is more milk in the bulk tank and management satisfied with a victory, but some other things happen as well.

The herd will include more old or young or marginal cows and a lower percentage of the most profitable cows in their prime years. Productive cows have less access to the feed, water, and resting space and become less productive in the process. Some may incur permanent damage or not breed back, thus shortening their useful years. The young and timid or infirm struggle to compete in crowded conditions. Longevity of a year’s worth of heifers may be compromised. Be especially careful about overstocking this year.

Milk prices are favorable, but feed prices are not. Stored forages are in short supply in many areas. This is a good year to think about effective use of available feed and barn space resources as well as total milk shipped. Come to think of it, last year was a good year to do the same thing and I’ll just bet next year will also be a good year not to overstock the farm.

Several years back, a number of Virginia dairymen contracted to reduce production through a government sponsored herd buydown. Cow numbers were reduced by culling marginal cows. The surprising result in a number of herds was that the contracted reduction in milk yield was hard to achieve. Fewer cows meant that the productive cows that remained in these herds prospered and responded with higher yields. Herd efficiency suffers by keeping marginal cows and more importantly, by stressing the productive members of the herd. Almost certainly, some cows retained to make the extra milk simply don’t produce enough for the feed and space they consume and the pressure they put on more productive cows. If expansion is a good idea, do it, but do so with cow health and comfort as a primary goal. Otherwise, keep the productive cows and take good care of them.

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