Symposium review: Decomposing efficiency of milk production and maximizing profit

Alex Bach, Marta Terré, Maria Vidal
Journal of Dairy Science 2019 December 11
The dairy industry has focused on maximizing milk yield, as it is believed that this maximizes profit mainly through dilution of maintenance costs. Efficiency of milk production has received, until recently, considerably less attention. The most common method to determine biological efficiency of milk production is feed efficiency (FE), which is defined as the amount of milk produced relative to the amount of nutrients consumed. Economic efficiency is best measured as income over feed cost or gross margin obtained from feed investments. Feed efficiency is affected by a myriad of factors, but overall they could be clustered as follows: (1) physiological status of the cow (e.g., age, state of lactation, health, level of production, environmental conditions), (2) digestive function (e.g., feeding behavior, passage rate, rumen fermentation, rumen and hindgut microbiome), (3) metabolic partitioning (e.g., homeorhesis, insulin sensitivity, hormonal profile), (4) genetics (ultimately dictating the 2 previous aspects), and (5) nutrition (e.g., ration formulation, nutrient balance). Over the years, energy requirements for maintenance seem to have progressively increased, but efficiency of overall nutrient use for milk production has also increased due to dilution of nutrient requirements for maintenance. However, empirical evidence from the literature suggests that marginal increases in milk require progressively greater marginal increases in nutrient supply. Thus, the dilution of maintenance requirements associated with increases in production is partially overcome by a progressive diminishing marginal biological response to incremental energy and protein supplies. Because FE follows the law of diminishing returns, and because marginal feed costs increase progressively with milk production, profits associated with improving milk yield might, in some cases, be considerably lower than expected.

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