Extended lactation in high-yielding dairy cows. II. Effects on milk production, udder health, and body measurements
The objective of this prospective field study was to evaluate the effects of extending the lactation period of high-yielding dairy cows on milk production, udder health characteristics, and development of body condition. On 40 d in milk (DIM), an examination of the genital tract (transrectal palpation, sonography, vaginoscopy) was performed. Cows without signs of clinical endometritis were blocked by parity and were randomly allocated to 1 of 3 experimental groups with a voluntary waiting period of 40, 120, and 180 d, respectively (G40, n = 135; G120, n = 141; G180, n = 139). Mean daily milk and energy-corrected milk production did not differ between the 3 groups regarding the first 305 d or for the whole lactation (d 1 and up to dry off, culling, or 600 DIM). In late lactation (306 to 600 DIM), G40 had lower average productivity (23.8 kg) compared with G120 (26.5 kg), with G180 showing intermediate values (25.7 kg). The extended lactation groups showed greater persistency, as the rate of decline based on a Wilmink function was lower for G120 (c = -0.063 and -0.045 for milk and energy-corrected milk, respectively) and G180 (c = -0.061 and -0.047) compared with G40 (c = -0.071 and -0.056). We found no difference between the 3 groups regarding the evaluated udder health characteristics (somatic cell count, incidence of mastitis, and days off milk due to mastitis). More cows in G180 (7.9%) were culled due to low productivity compared with G40 (0.7%) and as a tendency compared with G120 (2.8%). Moreover, cows of G180 showed higher median body condition score at the time of dry off compared with cows of both G40 and G120 (3.50 for G180 vs. 3.25 for both G40 and G120). At the time of dry off, G180 cows also had greater backfat thickness (25.0 mm) compared with both G40 (22.2 mm) and G120 cows (21.6 mm). Based on our results, the extension of the voluntary waiting period of high-yielding cows up to 120 d has no adverse effects regarding milk production, involuntary culling, udder health, or BCS gain.