Using Milk Starts to Evaluate Herd Performance

Written by Michelle Woodman, Dairy Technical Consultant, Landmark Services Cooperative

DairyComp 305 is an important management tool used by dairy producers to record, store, and analyze herd activities, events, and productivity. One useful application of DairyComp 305 is tracking 4 week milk starts as an indicator of performance in your herd.

Milk starts are an estimate of milk production that adjusts all animals to similar DIM (Days in Milk) for accurate comparisons. Milk starts can be evaluated at any time early in lactation with Week 4 and 8 being the most common time frames used by dairy consultants. Milk start values are an indication of how consistently and effectively animals are “transitioning” into early lactation and thus lactational profits.

Historically, dairymen and consultants have focused on peak milk or the adjusted metric for total lactation milk (ME305). Both of those metrics have a large amount of lag (delay) before being evaluated, potentially resulting in significant loss of income before a change can be made. Today we know that how cows start is how cows peak and finish their lactation. Milk starts allow consultants to more effectively identify and manage transition performance trends and strategically implement changes to improve profitability. Milk starts also give an early indication of how cows are transitioning and are the preferred metric to evaluate nutritional interventions since they have minimal lag and accurately predict performance and profitability for the rest of the lactation.

When applying milk starts, you can establish performance goals for each lactation group and can be ready to evaluate lactation performance. These goals should be a percentage amount above an established “cutoff” for each time frame evaluated, such as month fresh. Cutoff goals will differ among herds due to breeds, genetics, feedstuff, and housing—the first step is knowing where you are currently and establishing a plan to reduce variation and/or increase the cutoff level for your herd. Milk starts are an excellent metric to evaluate nutritional and management interventions to the pre- and post-fresh groups. Depending on the response lag for the change, new milk start trends, levels, and variation can be quickly monitored each month. By successfully managing the transition program, it sets the stage for improved performance throughout the subsequent lactation of the herd.

Contact your Landmark Technical Dairy Consultant for further assistance in monitoring milk starts for your herd.