Effect of dry period length on milk yield over multiple lactations

Kok, A.; Knegsel, A.T.M. van; Middelaar, C.E. van; Engel, B.; Hogeveen, H.; Kemp, B.; Boer, I.J.M. de


Shortening or omitting the dry period (DP) can improve the energy balance of dairy cows in early lactation through a decrease in milk yield after calving. Little is known about the effect of a short or no DP on milk yield over multiple lactations. Our objectives were (1) to assess the effect of DP length over multiple lactations on milk yield, and (2) to assess if the prediction of milk yield in response to DP length could be improved by including individual cow characteristics before calving. Lactation data (2007 to 2015) of 16 Dutch dairy farms that apply no or short DP were used to compute cumulative milk yield in the 60 d before calving (additional yield) and in the 305 d after calving (305-d yield), and the mean daily yield over the interval from 60 d before calving to 60 d before next calving (effective lactation yield). The DP categories were no (0 to 2 wk), short (3 to 5 wk), standard (6 to 8 wk), and long (9 to 12 wk). The effect of current DP and previous DP on yields was analyzed with mixed models (n = 1,420 lactations). The highest effective lactation yield of fat-and-protein-corrected milk (FPCM) was observed for cows with a standard current DP (27.6 kg per day); a daily decrease was observed of 0.6 kg for a long DP, 1.0 kg for a short DP, and 2.0 kg for no DP. Previous DP did not significantly affect the effective lactation yield. Thus, cows can be managed with short or no DP over consecutive lactations without a change in quantity of milk losses. Cows that received no DP for consecutive lactations had a lower additional yield before calving (−172 kg of FPCM), but a higher 305-d yield (+560 kg of FPCM), compared with cows that received no DP for the first time. This could lessen the improvement of the energy balance in early lactation when no DP is applied a second time compared with the first time. For the second objective, a basic model was explored to predict effective lactation yield based on parity, DP length, and first-parity 305-d yield (n = 2,866 lactations). The basic model was subsequently extended with data about recent yield, days open, and somatic cell count. Extending the model reduced the error of individual predictions by only 6%. Therefore, the basic model seems sufficient to predict the effect of DP length on effective lactation yield. Other individual cow characteristics can still be relevant, however, to make a practical and tailored decision about DP length.