Milk is a clear, wholesome lacteal secretion obtained from the udder of healthy cows, free from any extraneous material like dust, dirt, feces, drug residues, etc.
It is obtained from cows after parturition, which serves as a nutrient-rich food for the newborn calf.
Normal milk production in cows
Regular cows: 1600-2500 kg/ lactation cycle
Holstein/ Jersey purebred: 4500-5500 kg/ lactation cycle
Other breeds of the cow may produce in between these as Holstein and Jersey range.
Causes of Low Milk Production in Cows
While talking about milk production in cow, one point which matters the most is the breed of cow. A cow can produce only so much milk as it’s genetics can permit it can be increased above that up to some marginal levels, but a substantial increase is close to impossible. Hence it is imperative to consider this before starting a dairy enterprise. Remember, high yielding breeds yield the best milk production.
Cows sired by best parents considering their genetics (high yielding dam + best sire) produce more milk. This causes variation in milk-producing breeds. Hence emphasis must be given to select the best of both worlds!!
No matter what breed you have, how superior the pedigree, you can never get high milk production if the nutrition requirements for the animal are not met.
Another most important factor contributing to the loss of production is inadequate/ wrong managemental practices.
Management of animals at the farm, including the housing of animals, regular screening for diseases, feeding practices, methods of milking followed, the clean environment contributes a lot to the milk-producing potential of the milch animals. If neglected, it can lead to severe diseases among the herd and further loss of milk production.
Many diseases of livestock threaten the production of milk. These include mastitis, deficiency diseases (especially calcium deficiency), parasitic diseases, viral and bacterial diseases.
We’ll see common diseases hampering production one by one-
- Bovine Mastitis
Mastitis is the inflammation of the udder. Theoretically, it may be caused by a variety of causes, mainly infectious agents.
- Causative agents– bacteria that mainly cause mastitis are staphylococcus, streptococcus, mycobacterium, actinomyces.
- Sources of infection– route of infection is mainly through the teat canal. Infection may be spread by wounds on teats, injuries caused by the suckling of calves, milker’s hands, etc.
- Signs and symptoms–
Hardening of the udder, which becomes swollen and painful. The secretion of the milk is minimal and stained by blood; toxins may be released into the bloodstream, which may cause death, udder becomes cold and greenish or blue, gangrene may supervene, in acute cases, death occurs and if the animal survives, the udder is lost.
- Preventive care
- A kit for mastitis test is available in the market by the name of the California Mastitis Test, this consists of a teat cup and a reagent should be used to screen the animals in lactation periodically, ideally once a week.
- If any signs of the disease are seen, treatment should be followed by a qualified veterinary practitioner.
- Mastitis mainly occurs in a dirty environment. Hence care must be taken to keep surroundings clean and regular cleaning of excreta of animals should be done as it acts as a breeding ground for bacteria.
- Any wounds on the teat or scabs from pock lesions are to be treated as early as possible.
- Milk fever/ Hypocalcaemia-
It is a metabolic disease of adult females most commonly occurring about the time of parturition.
Excessive loss of calcium in colostrum.
A reduced feed intake at parturition.
Deficiency of Vitamin-D in the diet.
The improper ratio of calcium and phosphorus.
- Predisposing factors-
Cold climate, long-distance transport by foot, sudden deprivation of food, grazing on oxalate-rich plants, digestive disturbances.
- Clinical signs
Excitement, tetany, hypersensitivity, muscle tremors, ataxia, drowsiness, cold skin, inability to stand, head turned towards the flank, bloating of the stomach.
- Preventive care
Give exercise to an animal to maintain gut function and to stimulate bone metabolism
Provide warmth in a cold climate.
Do not milk completely after calving for a few days.
Feed a calcium-rich diet during the last two weeks of gestation.
- Phosphorus deficiency hemoglobinuria-
It is a metabolic disease of high producing dairy cows characterized by intravascular hemolysis, red-colored, or coffee-colored urine.
Deficiency of phosphorus in the diet, impaired absorption of phosphorus, excess calcium in the body, improper calcium-phosphorus ratio, a heavy drain of phosphorus through milk, increased demand by the fetus during pregnancy, feeding cruciferous plants like rape, kale, and turnip.
- Signs and symptoms
Partial to complete anorexia.
Dullness, depression, weakness.
A marked drop in milk yield.
Rapid breathing and difficulty breathing in the next stages.
Passage of pasty feces with straining.
Jaundice may occur in advanced stages.
- Regular provision of a mineral mixture containing phosphorus according to the requirement of maintenance and production.
- Protect the recently calved or advanced animals from cold stress.
- Ketosis –
It is a metabolic disease of high yielding animals characterized by hypoglycemia, ketonemia, and ketonuria.
Starvation or feeding of a low carbohydrate diet.
Feeding excess amount of protein-rich diet.
Excess feeding of silage.
High milk yield
Deficiency of cobalt and phosphorus.
Lack of exercise.
Loss of appetite.
- Signs and symptoms-
Refusal to concentrate feed.
A marked drop in milk production.
Rapid loss of body weight.
Sweetish smell to breath, milk, urine.
Feces are firm, dry, and covered in mucus.
Nervous symptoms like circling, staggering, head pressing, aimless walking, vigorous licking of inanimate objects, chewing movements with hypersalivation.
- Preventive care-
Cows should not be over or underfed at calving.
An extra allowance of concentrate in advance pregnancy.
Feeding of ground maize and cooked and ground grains.
Provide good quality silage and hay.
Give adequate exercise.
The ration should be adequate and balanced.
Select cows with good feed capacity and appetite.
- Other metabolic diseases –
- Hypomagnesaemic tetany.
- Downer cow syndrome
- Pregnancy toxemia
- Cobalt deficiency
- Copper deficiency
- Iron deficiency
- Iodine deficiency
- Diabetes mellitus
*almost all the deficiency diseases of metals and vitamins can be avoided with following good feeding along with supplements and good husbandry practices.
So How to Improve Milk Production in Cows
Production and Employment of Superior Cow Breeds
While starting a dairy farm or continuing dairy farm, to increase milk production, high yielding varieties of cows should be reared. Some of the high yielding varieties are Holstein Friesian, Jersey, and Gir, etc.
Also, it should also be kept in mind to ensure the excellent pedigree of the calves that are produced on the farm. To achieve this goal, AI (artificial insemination) is to be employed to impregnate the dams using high-quality sperm from an outstanding sire. This will ensure a good pedigree of the progeny, which will have enhanced milk production. Sometimes exotic breeds may have problems getting acclimatize to the weather in such cases; crossbreeding may be used to improve the production performance of the existing cows and concurrently to make them more tolerant of the weather conditions of the area. This will help bridge the gap that is commonly faced in milk production, which is mainly due to high yielding and low yielding varieties or breeds.
Improving Feeding Practices
No matter how good the potential of a breed for high production is, if the feeding is not up to the mark, all the efforts go down the drain. Therefore it is important to improve the feeding of the cows. The main components of feed given to cows are proteins, carbohydrates, and fats; they should be given in sufficient amount to fulfill the maintenance and production requirements of an animal. Green fodder along with dry fodder and concentrates like oil cakes, are important to sustain and improve milk production.
High yielding fodder varieties like hybrid Napier, Pearl Millet (bajra), fodder sorghum, guinea grass, and para grass should be used. And to fulfill the protein requirement of the animal, high yielding legume varieties like Lucerne, hedge Lucerne, fodder cowpea should be used. And to fulfill the fat requirements, oil cakes like linseed cake, cottonseed cake, etc. are to be used. Also, byproducts of other industries like bone meal, meat meal, and vegetable parts can also be used. The treatment of cheap fodder to transform them into highly nutritious fodder can be done, which will be mentioned later.
Protection from and Treatment of Diseases
Diseases occurring in milch animals are the leading cause of low production and low-quality production of milk. Commonly occurring diseases like mastitis should be regularly screened for and treated promptly from a certified veterinarian. Other deadly diseases like brucellosis cause heavy losses in animals like abortion and spread throughout the herd rapidly such infected animals are to be culled from the stock.
Treated animals should be given extra care and their milk is to be abstained from the total daily collection for a prescribed amount of withdrawal period to preserve the quality and wholesomeness of milk.
Vaccination for available diseases should be done at the proper time with guidance from a veterinarian. It can help reduce mortality and morbidity of the diseases and help improve the overall productivity of the farm.
Management of Farm Animals
Good management has a massive impact on milk production. Some of the ideal management practices are-
Keeping the barn clean
Regular milking of the animals at the same timings
Good feeding practices
Access to clean water
Vigilance about diseases
Number of times the milking is done
Well ventilated farm
Animal housing objectives
- Protection from a hostile environment.
- Availability of nutritious food and water.
- To provide a comfortable resting place.
- Protection from diseases by the disposal of waste.
- The welfare of animals.
Large animal housing
- High standard of insulation of all surfaces.
- The surface of the walls should be smooth and corners blunt.
- The design of stalls and mangers should provide easy consumption of food.
- The roof should allow reflection of light, thereby maintaining temperature.
- Fly control should be done by spraying appropriate fly repellent in cracks and crevices.
- Sunlight should enter the shed of cows as it helps in disinfection.
- The orientation of the shed of cows should be east-west.
Disinfection of animal houses
- Disinfection is carried out by light, heat, and chemicals.
- Sunlight is a good disinfecting agent.
- Burning, boiling of articles and equipment, use of steam or hot water are effective methods of disinfection.
- Water troughs and feed mangers and floor should be washed with 4% hot sodium bicarbonate solution regularly.
- Quick lime and calcium oxide should be sprinkled over manure, animal discharge on the floor to act as disinfectant and deodorant.
- Other chemicals used are- potassium permanganate, bleaching powder, caustic soda, and cationic detergents.
- Flame guns can also be used to disinfect barns with proper care.
Disinfestation of sheds
- This simply means the elimination of sources of parasitic infections.
- Proper and prompt disposal of manure and feces should be done away from the shed.
- Treatment of pasture, ponds, streams with CuSO4 should be done to control the snail population, which spread parasites like the liver fluke, tapeworms, etc.
- Proper deworming should be done by a veterinarian.
- Rotational grazing on different parts of pastures should be followed.
- Insecticides should be sprayed in the shed often to control parasitic development.
- Another option is spraying of DDT in the barn, but it should be avoided as it is harmful to the environment.
- Vector control- natural poisons- rotenone, pyrethrum, derris, mineral oil
Synthetic poisons- organophosphates, organochlorines, carbamates
Stomach poisons- Paris green, sodium fluoride
Fumigation- methyl bromide, sulfur dioxide.
Vectors can also be done by proper disposal of manure also.
If all the management practices are carried out properly, then milk production will increase.
Usually, milking is done 2 times a day in most of the farm but much research has been conducted and it was found that 3 times milking increases milk production.
Method of milking also plays an important role, especially if hand milking is followed. Many farmers follow the knuckling method of drawing milk from the udder, which is a harmful method for the animal and it damages teat tissue which leads to scarring of the teat canal. Full hand milking is the best method of milking a cow; it should be followed by stripping, which has shown to increase the fat content of the milk.
- Knuckling method of milking-
This is a common practice of milking cows; wherein thumb is opposed against the teat and fingers, it puts pressure on the teat tissue and damages the teat and is also painful to the animal.
- Treatment of animals in case of deficiency
Animals can also produce less milk when there is a deficiency of minerals and vitamins. In general, mineral mixtures available in the market can be included in the diet of the animal, which will fulfill the mineral requirements. In more immediate cases, calcium deficiency can be treated by a veterinarian who will likely inject calcium into animals via intravenous injections.
But if proper feeding and management are followed, deficiencies are not developed.
Contents of mineral mixture commonly available-
Acid insoluble ash
B complex vitamins
Treatment of low-quality fodder into high-quality, nutritious fodder
There is ample scope to increase the yield or to reduce the production cost by utilizing crop residues and agricultural byproducts.
Low-cost technologies like enrichment of straw, urea molasses mineral block can be employed to enrich low-quality fodder into high-quality, nutritious fodder.
Methods to enrich low-quality fodder
- Urea treatment of the straw- (urea and jaggery)
This helps in increasing the nitrogen content of the feed, which in turn is consumed by the ruminal microbes and is converted into digestible protein, which can be absorbed by the animals and help in improving milk production.
The procedure for this can be found on YouTube.
- Silage –
Green leafy fodder, which is low in nutrients can be transformed by this process of silage making.
This method uses green fodder chopped into small bits, mineral mixture, whey, urea, jaggery, common salt. This is done in silage or tower-procedure for which can also be found on YouTube.
This process makes use of the whole plant, so wastage is limited and animals also get highly nutritious feed, which in turn boosts production.