Farmers have long known that the first 100 days is the most critical stage in each cow's lactation.
Dr Bill Wales and his team - including Dr Vicky Russo, Dr Christie Ho and Dr Rodrigo Albornoz - are working on the DairyFeedbase First 100 Days project, which aims to assist Australian dairy farmers to make management decisions about supplementary feeding to get the most production benefit, while maintaining good animal health.
DairyFeedbase is the dairy industry's leading applied research and innovation program and is a joint venture between Dairy Australia, Agriculture Victoria and the Gardiner Foundation.
The First 100 Days project is one of five projects for DairyFeedbase run at Agriculture Victoria's Ellinbank research farm.
The First 100 Days project is targeting outcomes of an extra $2 per cow per day profit (milk income minus supplement cost) in the first 100 days of lactation, plus an ongoing benefit of $100 per cow from days 100 to 300 of lactation, and $50 per cow from avoiding metabolic issues over the entire lactation cycle.
Even though it is early in the project, three different experiments have shown consistent economic outcomes and Dr Wales is confident this information can be readily adopted by dairy farmers.
"The First 100 Days project focuses on the critical start of the lactation period, which sets up a cow for optimal performance for the season," Dairy Australia manager of major innovation projects Australia and Dairy Feedbase co-director Kevin Argyle said.
Some 21 months into the five-year project - and still in the experimental stages - Dr Wales and his team have already identified gains of about 73 cents per cow per day in the first 100 days in milk (DIM) by managing the amount and type of supplement fed to grazing cows in early lactation; and a carryover increase of 50 per cow per day after they return to the main herd and are fed a common diet.
Even though it is early in the project, three different experiments have shown consistent economic outcomes, and Dr Wales is confident this information can be readily adopted by dairy farmers.
The extra 73 per cow per day profit for the first 100 days was delivered by feeding a grain mix at a constant rate, compared with feeding a straight cereal grain for the first 100 days.
The grain mix strategy involved feeding maize grain in the first 21 DIM then a mix comprising wheat grain (25 per cent), barley grain (50pc) and canola meal (25pc) at a rate of 7 kilograms per cow per day from 22 DIM to 100 DIM.
For the purposes of illustrating the potential benefit, if these responses were achieved for the average Australian dairy herd of 300 cows, this would mean an extra $22,000 in profit.
At 101 DIM, the cows involved in the research were returned to the standard herd and were not given any special attention, yet they showed a higher residual milking rate for the remainder of the lactation cycle (~200 days).
This higher carryover milk production is worth about 50 per cow per day profit for the 101 to 300 DIM lactation phase - meaning, on average, an extra $100 per cow per lactation cycle.
For the average Australian dairy herd (300 cows) that means an additional $30,000 profit, on top of the $22,000 from the first 100 days.
"Dr Wales and his team have shown that certain supplements during the first 21 days and then the following eight weeks or so can enable cows to peak higher, have less metabolic issues and to then produce more milk for the remaining lactation," Mr Argyle said.
"The targeted benefit to farmers is an additional $350 per cow per annum.
"Already this project can pay dividends for farmers with a strategy that is simple to implement and can deliver $52,000 extra profit for a dairy farmer with an average size herd."
The team are currently confirming these results with further experiments under different conditions and are in the planning stages of quantifying benefits of the early detection of metabolic disease.
For more information visit www.DairyFeedbase.com.au