A 500-cow dairy in western New York had made major progress in milk production — and the owner wanted to keep it going.

Add 20 more pounds to the herd average by 2020Last August, he laid down the gauntlet, asking his advisors how they could add 20 more pounds to the herd average by the year 2020. If implemented, it would take the herd average from 104 pounds per day to 124 pounds.

The farm is exploring various strategies, including feed quality, genetics, employee management, reproductive management, culling practices and transition cow management, according to Tom Bailey, veterinarian with Elanco Animal Health, who spoke last spring at the Central Plains Dairy Expo in Sioux Falls, S.D.

Of the strategies, it was transition cow management that Bailey emphasized during his presentation.

“If we can get these ladies” off to a good start, he said, it will solve a lot of problems.

The first 60 days of milk is when most cows leave the herd, he said. “It’s not unusual to see 25 to 30 percent of the cows that freshen leave the herd before the first 60 days in milk,” he added.

Bailey cited these opportunities for improvement:

• Reduce overcrowding in the pre-fresh pens. There should be enough room that all of the animals can rest comfortably and have ready access to feed. Researchers at the University of Wisconsin recommend at least 30 inches of bunk space per animal.

• Minimize pen moves within 10 days of calving. Make the moves “socially stable,” Bailey said. “In other words, move cows in groups.”

• Reduce stress. By giving cows more room and minimizing pen moves, there’s less stress on the cows, which is very important. Right after calving, cows are already dealing with suppressed — or even dysfunctional — immune function due to sudden biological changes, so it’s imperative to reduce environmental challenges as much as possible.

• Provide cooling for pre-fresh cows. When dry cows are cooled, they produce more milk in their subsequent lactation, research has shown. In one study, researchers from the University of Florida observed an increase in the proliferation of mammary cells in cooled cows during the transition period.