Lactation in cows: developmental stages and duration

Lactation is one of the most important processes in the body of mammals, which has been adopted by humans since ancient times. Mastering them allowed mankind to create a whole food industry and with it many unique food products. In this material, we will reveal in detail all the features of the process in cattle, as well as share tips on increasing the productivity of animals.

What is a lactation process?

Lactation is a natural physiological process, which is a complex of all kinds of biochemical and metabolic reactions aimed at the formation, accumulation and secretion of milk. Lactation is a predominantly narrow-minded feature found exclusively among females.

It arises as a response of the body to pregnancy and the birth of offspring. Its main role in animal life is to provide offspring with nutritious and easily digestible food, necessary for the rapid growth and development of the body.

Did you know? Cow's milk is considered one of the most popular livestock products. About 400 million tons of it are produced annually in the world.


First of all, you need to figure out how long the cow’s milk production period lasts. Often, the active phase of lactation in livestock is about 300 days. However, its continuous development depends on many factors. First of all, this is a consequence of favorable conditions of detention, including the result of protecting animals from a variety of stresses.

Lactation in a cow is divided into 3 successive stages, during which there is a change not only in the consistency of milk, but also in its composition. This is a physiological requirement of the animal organism, since the calf at each stage of its maturation requires certain nutrients. The main stages of lactation in cows are as follows:

  • colostrum stage;
  • normal milk stage;
  • stage of old milk.
The colostrum phase begins immediately after the birth of the cow calf and lasts for 7–10 days. At this time, milk acquires a thick consistency, which is explained by the huge amount of proteins, fats, vitamins, trace elements and other nutrients dissolved in it. Colostrum also contains a high concentration of lactobacilli and other microorganisms useful for digestion.

The main goal of colostrum is to provide the calf with a large portion of nutrients that will help it adapt after birth to the environment, as well as colonize the digestive system with beneficial bacteria. For a person, it is a rather unusual food, because it has a not quite familiar and pleasant taste.

Important! Despite the huge amount of useful substances and compounds important for health, colostrum is not recommended for humans, since it can cause all kinds of digestive disorders. After the dynamics of colostrum production in a cow decreases, the phase of normal milk begins. During this period, the product has a traditional composition, texture and taste. The duration of the phase is 190–280 days, while the amount of milk at this time is not always the same. In the first few months, the cow reaches its peak production, so the cow gives at least 15 liters of product per day, after which its amount gradually decreases.

The cow gives old-milk milk at the end of lactation for 7–10 days. At this time, the product is characterized by an increased amount of protein and white blood cells, but at the same time its acidity decreases sharply. Such milk is of rather low quality, therefore it is practically not used for processing in industrial production.

Milk formation process

The process of milk formation is quite complicated and includes many metabolic reactions of the body. The main organ in which it is produced is the mammary gland (udder). It is located in the lower part of the body, near the inguinal zone. The udder is inextricably linked with the circulatory system of the cow; therefore, the circulatory system is also responsible for the processes of the appearance and accumulation of milk compounds in the body of the animal.

Did you know? In order to produce 1 liter of high-quality milk, the udder of a cow must let at least 500 liters of blood pass through it.

The main role in the formation of milk is played by the endocrine system. Thanks to her, in the alveolar tissue of the udder, with the help of special cells, the formation of milk molecules occurs. The main raw material for him in the body of a cow is blood. It is from this physiological fluid that the cells of the mammary gland gain the necessary amount of nutrients, vitamins, trace elements and proteins, which will later become a valuable concentrated product.

As a result, in milk, unlike blood, the concentration increases:

  • sugars - 90 times;
  • fats - 20 times;
  • calcium - 15 times.

Milk production in the cow's body is regulated by the activity of the lactostimulating hormone prolactin produced by the anterior pituitary gland. Thanks to him, in the cow’s body, there is a transition from one phase of lactation to another, and not only the production of milk compounds is stimulated, but also the growth of the udder in volume, as well as its throughput.

Find out why milk is bitter on a cow and whether calves can be fed milk powder.

Stimulation of milk production stimulates nipple irritation during milking, therefore, often enough, a decrease in the lactational ability of livestock is associated with a decrease in the number of milks.

Technique of feeding in this period

As mentioned above, in order to get high-quality milk, the udder of a cow must be passed through a huge amount of blood saturated with all kinds of nutrients. That is why high-quality and balanced nutrition during lactation is a guarantee not only of high livestock productivity, but also of a long lactation period. For this, animals are transferred to a special diet.

Cows Feeding by Lactation

Feed types

To ensure quality lactation in livestock, the following types of feed are used:

  • wet - consist mainly of silage, enriched with pieces of root crops, or all kinds of waste from the food industry (pulp, beer pellet, etc.);
  • semi-moist - based on silage and special concentrates, as well as additives that increase the productivity of animals;
  • coarse - hay from field or meadow forbs;
  • dry nutrient mixtures - special feed granules consisting of a concentrate of nutrients based on grass flour;
  • concentrated - the fruits of grain crops (wheat, corn grits, etc.);
  • vegetables - all kinds of fruits of vegetable crops, including root crops.

Consider the features of livestock nutrition, depending on the phase of lactation:

Lactation phasePower Features
Colostrum milkAfter giving birth to a cow, it is extremely important to restore its body, especially if it was preceded by a long dry period. The first few days, a new-born cow should eat roughage with a small admixture of fresh root vegetables or vegetables. After 4–5 days, concentrated, moist, and semi-moist foods are included in her diet.
Normal milkAfter the colostrum leaves, the cow is transferred to a reinforced diet. It is based on coarse, moist and semi-moist foods, as well as concentrates. Coarse feed is sometimes replaced by haylage. Additionally, all kinds of crushed root crops, as well as dry nutritional mixtures that increase lactation, are included in the animal's diet.
Old milkAfter a decrease in lactational activity and before mating with the bull, the cow is gradually transferred from saturated nutrition to dry food, so the diet of such animals should be based on hay (or haylage) with vegetables and root crops by the end of lactation.

In addition, when compiling a cow’s diet, the animal’s productivity and weight are also taken into account. In this case, it is necessary to take into account the main rule of the diet of productive cows - for every 100 kg of animal, there must be at least 0.5 feed units. Otherwise, the animal will starve, which will lead not only to inhibition of lactation, but also to general inhibition of the body.

Did you know? In its pure form, less than 50% of the adult population is able to consume milk, while the rest have a different degree of lactose intolerance. This is due to the lack of the corresponding gene responsible for the digestibility of lactose, since at the dawn of the appearance of mankind, it was not common for adults to consume milk.

Frequency of feeding cattle

Most experienced farmers and veterinarians agree that three times a day is the optimal diet for cows. Such a system is most optimal for most valuable livestock breeds. However, for highly productive cows that produce more than 5 thousand kg of dairy products per year, such nutrition will not be enough.

That is why additional feeding is introduced to such animals, providing a 4–5-time diet. At the same time, the following recommendations must be taken into account, which increase not only digestibility, but also the efficiency of livestock feeding:

  • root crops are better to be mixed with silage;
  • concentrated, dry and semi-moist food should be given after milking;
  • hay (or haylage) in the feeder should be constant, in unlimited quantities.

Feed amount

The right technology for the care of farm animals must necessarily be based not only on qualitative, but also on quantitative indicators. One of them quite often includes the amount of feed that cattle need in a certain phase of life. Exceeding established norms over time will adversely affect animal health, and will also cause losses to farmers. That is why the amount of food in the diet of lactating cattle must be regulated.

In the first few days after calving, cows are given plenty of hay daily and no more than 2-3 kg of the rest of the feed. If the birth of the calf does not cause complications, starting from the 4th day, the amount of moist, semi-moist, concentrated feed and vegetables is adjusted to 5-6 kg per day, while roughage is also given in plenty. Upon reaching the normal milk phase, the amount of feed for lactating animals is gradually increased. By the 20th day after calving, in addition to roughage or haylage in unlimited quantities, the daily diet of the cow should consist of 6–9 kg of wet and semi-moist food.

1-1.5 months after calving, the animal is transferred to a highly nutritious diet with an increased amount of fiber. It is based on 12-15 kg of roughage or silage, 14-15 kg of wet and semi-moist mixtures with the addition of vegetables and root crops, 6-7 kg of special additives (dry nutrient mixtures, animal feed, etc.). At the end of lactation, the cow is prepared for dead wood, gradually removing high-calorie nutrients from its diet and replacing them with roughage. As a result, before calving, the cow's diet should consist of 10-15 kg of hay or haylage, as well as no more than 1-1.5 kg of vegetables and root crops for each liter of milk dispensed.

Important! It is not worth overfeeding livestock, as this can cause obesity in animals, which negatively affects lactation.

The lactation period in a cow is a complex and specific process requiring close attention from the farmer. You can influence its activity using a variety of methods, but only observing the schedule of incidents and the diet can turn a regular average cow into a highly productive animal. That is why every farmer needs to pay due attention to animals, otherwise cattle breeding will end in serious losses.

Interesting Articles