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Extended lactation in dairy cows: effects of milking frequency, calving season and nutrition on lactation persistency and milk quality

Sorensen, Annette and Muir, D. Donald and Knight, Christopher H. (2008) Extended lactation in dairy cows: effects of milking frequency, calving season and nutrition on lactation persistency and milk quality. Journal of Dairy Research, 75 (1). pp. 90-97. ISSN 0022-0299

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Abstract

Twelve spring-calving and twelve winter-calving cows were managed for extended lactation cycles of 18-months duration, with the former group then completing a second extended lactation. Half of the cows were fed according to standard management practice for the herd; the other half received supplementary concentrate from week 9 of lactation onwards. Commencing at the same time, half of the udder of each cow was subjected to increased milking frequency (thrice daily rather than twice daily). Lactation persistency (and hence total milk yield) was significantly increased by frequent milking. Winter calving cows and supplemented cows also exhibited better persistency, but this was only evident up until the point of re-breeding, at around lactation week 33. Milk composition was measured in the spring-calving cows in both their first and second extended lactations. Composition altered during the course of the lactation, protein and fat percentages increasing and lactose percentage decreasing, irrespective of treatment. The quality of the milk for processing into cheese, fermented products, heat-treated products and cream liqueurs was assessed by calculation of casein number (casein protein as a proportion of total protein). Processing quality declined across the course of lactation in those groups that showed poor persistency but not in those that maintained a persistent lactation. Milk hygienic quality (somatic cell counts) showed parallel changes. Body condition score increased during the course of lactation but was not affected by supplementation; none of the cows became excessively fat. All cows remained healthy throughout the extended lactations and the majority (33/36) re-bred successfully. By demonstrating that lactation persistency is plastic and can be improved by simple management interventions, the results lend support to the economic arguments in favour of extended lactation cycles. The likely welfare benefits of extended lactation are also discussed.