More efficient and economical production systems are needed to improve the sustainability of dairy farms. One concept to consider is using perennial cows. Perennial cows are those that maintain a relatively high milk production for ≥2 yr without going through the typical dry period followed by calving. Farm records show that some cows have produced over 20 kg/d after 4 yr of continuous lactation. A farm simulation model was used to evaluate the long-term performance, environmental impact, and economics of a conceptual perennial cow production system on a typical dairy farm in Pennsylvania. Compared with a traditional 100-cow farm with replacement heifers produced on the farm, a perennial herd of 100 cows and purchased replacements provided environmental benefit but sustained a substantial economic loss. However, increasing the perennial herd to 128 cows better utilized the feed produced on the farm. Compared with the traditional 100-cow farm, use of the perennial 128-cow herd reduced supplemental protein and mineral feed purchases by 38%, increased annual milk sales by 21%, reduced nitrogen losses by 17%, maintained a phosphorus balance, and increased annual net return to farm management by $3200. A traditional 120-cow dairy farm with purchased replacements also used a similar amount of farm-produced feed. Compared with this option, the farm with 128 perennial cows reduced protein and mineral feed purchases by 36%, maintained similar annual milk sales, increased manure production by 7%, reduced N losses by 10%, and increased annual net return by $12,700. The economic feasibility of the perennial-cow dairy farm was very sensitive to the milk production maintained by the perennial herd and market prices for milk and perennial replacement animals. The analysis was relatively insensitive to the assumed useful life of perennial cows as long as they could be maintained in the herd for at least 3 yr. Thus, a perennial cow production system can improve the economic and environmental sustainability of a traditional dairy farm if a similar level in annual milk production per cow can be maintained. American Dairy Science Association, 2005.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Food Science
- Animal Science and Zoology