Art of managing high yielding cows!

India is heading towards producing around 165 MT milk by 2020. Several projects and attempts are initiated by govt and private players to move towards this vision. Growing interest is observed among dairy producers towards good quality and high yielding animals. At the same time their knowledge about managing these high quality animals needs to be upgraded so as to help them to maximize the profitability at their dairy farms.

The following challenges/ questions are faced by a vet or any other veterinary service provider when he/she meets a dairy farmer.
1. Enquiry about feeds and feeding for high yielding dairy cows
2. Animals in negative energy balance and its negative effects
3. Low peak yield and lower persistency
4. Repeat breading and anoestrus conditions
5. How to manage mastitis
6. Post partum metabolic disorders like ketosis, milk fever
7. How to make Dairy Farming profitable.
As all of us know well, the productivity of dairy animals is influenced by feed, breed and management. Focus on the management of these three factors is very critical to prepare the animals and dairy producers to increase profitability of dairy farms. We will focus on managing cross bred animals under Indian conditions.
Focus on MPE to reduce cost of production of milk
Today, our animals are underutilized in majority of the places due to poor feeding and management conditions. Milk production efficiency (MPE) of the dairy cows, calculated as total milk produced for every kg of dry matter intake, is around 0.6-0.8 at most of the farms in India. That means we get less milk per kg of dry matter consumed. Profitability of the dairy farms can be improved when MPE moves towards higher side. We need to focus on improving milk production efficiency as this is directly relates to cost of production of milk.
A small example is given below to calculate MPE of different milk producing animals and cost of production of milk.
This table gives us an idea about the feed expenses incurred to produce one kg of milk with different levels of milk production. Cost of production of milk can be reduced when we get more milk from the same animals. At the same time we need to be prepared to learn more to manage these high producing animals.
Breeding Management
Majority of the small cow farmers (less than 10 animals) are influenced by the local AI personals and use the semen available with them. This creates a challenge on maintaining a good quality breed or improvement in breeding. These small farmers sell good quality female calves (of improved genetics) instead of raising the female calves in the farm and replace the old or culled cows. Lack of maintenance of good quality calves lead to poor growth, calf mortality and thus increase the cost of cows.
On the other hand, dairy producers with more than 15 animals are gaining/seeking more knowledge on breeds and breeding. They discuss with their vets or AI people or consultants and use good quality semen and keep a record of the semen used in their farms. Many of the progressive dairy producers buy good quality semen and store it in their farm itself. This creates a positive trend on improving breeds in progressive dairy farms. Progressive dairy farmers understand the commercial value of a heifer with improved genetics and they give much focus on calf rearing and use them for replacement. This helped many of the dairy producers to double the wet average of the farm in last 10 years. Creating confidence among AI workers regarding technological advances on feeding and management of cross bred dairy animals will help them to transfer the technology to small producers.
Other management practices: Cow comfort
Good quality cows are not able to produce expected milk production due to poor or improper management practices like cow comfort. They are still kept under poor quality shelters. This creates big stress for milk producing dairy cow. In particular, cross bred cows go under tremendous heat stress and resulted in loss of milk production. Dairy farmers report that they notice 15 20% reduction in milk production during heat stress periods.
Many improvements are happening in terms of shed designing, milking practices (using machines) and feeding management at the farms with more than 10 or 15 animals. Many progressive dairy producers make an attempt to reduce the heat by using foggers, fans, sprinklers and tanks to cool the animals. This helps them to reduce heat stress and improves milk production. Feeding of bye pass fat during hot humid conditions proves beneficial in reducing heat stress and maintaining milk yield. Education on proper record keeping on breeding, milk production, feeding practices will help the producers to understand and analyze the farm practices and improve profitability at a dairy farm.
Success stories by dairy farmers from Punjab
Punjab dairy farmers made every Indian dairy farmer and the professionals involved in dairy farming to be proud by showing an example of developing and managing high yielding cows. Great improvements in the last 15 years shown by Progressive dairy farmers of Punjab i.e by improving farm average from 12 lits to 20 lits. Dairy farmers from different locations of India should visit the farms owned by PDFA Punjab to learn and get confidence on managing high yielding cows.
By putting our focus on feed, breed and management, it will definitely help in maximizing the efficiency of high yielding animals and in getting more milk from these animals extension department of several universities and milk procurement companies are playing a major role in extending their support to improve the knowledge level of the dairy farmers to increase productivity of dairy animals. Initiatives to influence the influencers like vets, AI workers and other professionals in dairy industry will help everyone to upgrade/establish proper breeding services and nutritional and management of improved breeds. Apart from making availability of good quality semen to improve breeds, education regarding the usage of compound cattle feed, importance of nutrition, silage making and management of cross bred high yielding animals will help the influencers to influence the milk producers on how to increase average milk production and also reduce cost of production of milk.
*Dr. R Gnana Sekar, Lead Consultant, GS Dairy Farm Consulting