Got milk? How to increase milk production in dairy cows?


Maximising milk production is a surefire way to increase the return on investment for your dairy farm.

“Sure,” you’re probably thinking. “But how exactly do I do that?” Well, we have scoured the best advice from experts all over the world to bring this list of tips and tricks to maximise your cow’s milk production.

On the whole, a happy cow - with the right amount of feed, resting and grazing time, healthcare and stress-free environment - will produce more milk, and make your dairy farming business more profitable. Ensuring these factors are monitored closely, especially after the cow gives birth, is the best investment you can make in ensuring more milk production.

When broken down, the areas to focus on are:

Take the dry period seriously

There is a strong body of research which shows a successful dry period will lead to more milk production for cows postpartum. The recommended time for dry period is 45 to 50 days, if less than 40 days, then milk yield in the next lactation will be decreased.

During the dry period, it is also key to maintain the same dry matter intake and not overfeed to prevent Body Condition Score gain. It is also important to increase comfort for the cow and address hoof health.

New mums are hungry mums 

After calving, increase your cows’ feed intake. Access to fresh Total Mixed Ration (TMR) or pasture feed and maintain cleanliness and freshness at the feed pad, if one is being used. 

Comfort is key 

New mums need their space, so you should make sure your cow has more room to lower its stress levels (especially for first time mums) and prevent separation from normal herd mates. A spacious sturdy dairy barn is the perfect way to protect your fragile herd members, and ensure they have quality protection and comfort from the elements.

Prevent subclinical milk fever

As you know, cows postpartum are at risk of subclinical milk fever - which is the condition of having low levels of calcium in the blood – and if suffering from that will produce less milk.

The condition causes higher levels of fat in the liver, which makes the cows more susceptible to infections and drastically reduces milk production.

A recent study by American veterinary professor, Dr John Middleton, recommended paying close attention to dietary management in the late dry/early lactating period and adding extra calcium sources during early lactation.

"Because our study suggests some potential risks for health issues in dairy cows with subclinical hypocalcaemia, it is important for dairy farmers to monitor these levels in their cows," Middleton said.

"For herds experiencing a high incidence of subclinical hypocalcaemia around the time of calving, adding anionic salts to their diets or providing calcium solutions orally or by injection at the time of calving could be beneficial to their overall health and productivity."

Monitor rumen health

The first five days after calving are important for feeding your cow fibre to maintain rumen health. Keep your cow’s well supplied and make sure each cow is eating enough.

Watch for warning signs

If you have cows with a history of milk fever, ketosis or mastitis, keep a close eye on them to ensure they don’t fall ill again. Prevention is key, and monitoring those with predispositions is a better investment than if they do succumb to health issues again.

Monitor body condition scores (BCS)

Dairy NZ recommends a BCS of 5.0 for mixed age cows and 5.5 for first and second calvers. The industry organisation says these scores are optimal for each individual animal, as well as herd targets.

For best milk production, it is recommended cows are as close to these targets at calving as possible. Dairy NZ’s strategies for this include, drying-off low producing, fat cows early; ensuring heifers are on track for weight and BCS; giving first and second calvers more time dry than older cows; split dry herds on BCS and time until calving; staggered dry-off based on BCS and time to calving, and part season once-a-day (OAD) milking for all or part of the herd.

Keep it clean

This is an obvious one, but ensure any anti-nutritional factors such as mould, wild yeast and poorly fermented foods are eradicated. Storage in a well-covered area can help prevent the risk of such contamination.

Consider feed additives

Fresh cow groups have the most potential to offer a return on investment by producing more milk postpartum if feed additives are used. Dairy NZ has a handy list of supplements on its website here.

The organisation also recommends: “The decision on which supplement to include in your farm system should be based on the cheapest form of energy (i.e. cents/MJ ME).

“Infrastructure, storage, wastage, the logistics of feeding and utilisation of the supplement should all be considered in your comparison.

“Supplements should have a better or similar ME to pasture (i.e. at least greater than 10.5 MJ ME/kg DM).”

Bring in the superfood feed

Humans aren’t the only ones who need antioxidants! Ensuring your herd receives vitamin E and selenium will help reduce the impact of oxidative stress which impacts the immune system.

House cows indoors in autumn and winter

There’s plenty of proof out there that keeping your herd warm, fed and ‘happy’ can lead to milking further into the cooler seasons. Last year we visited a Waikato farm who had seen a dramatic difference in milk production since building their compost barn - a staggering 44% increase per cow production, going from 380kg milk solids to 550kg! You can read more about their experience here

Indoor solutions such as a Dairy Barn system come with many other benefits such as effluent management and pasture protection and overall better general wellbeing of the herd. Get in touch to see how a bespoke build could add value to your business.