Annual rhythms of milk and milk fat and protein production in dairy cattle in the United States

I. J. Salfer, C. D. Dechow, K. J. Harvatine

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


An annual pattern of milk composition has been well recognized in dairy cattle, with the highest milk fat and protein concentration observed during the winter and lowest occurring in the summer; however, rhythms of milk yield and composition have not been well quantified. Cosinor rhythmometry is commonly used to model repeating daily and annual rhythms and allows determination of the amplitude (peak to mean), acrophase (time at peak), and period (time between peaks) of the rhythm. The objective of this study was to use cosinor rhythmometry to characterize the annual rhythms of milk yield and milk fat and protein concentration and yield using both national milk market and cow-level data. First, 10 yr of monthly average milk butterfat and protein concentration for each Federal Milk Marketing Order were obtained from the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Marketing Service database. Fat and protein concentration fit a cosine function with a 12-mo period in all milk markets. We noted an interaction between milk marketing order and milk fat and protein concentration. The acrophase (time at peak) of the fat concentration rhythm ranged from December 4 to January 19 in all regions, whereas the rhythm of protein concentration peaked between December 27 and January 6. The amplitude (peak to mean) of the annual rhythm ranged from 0.07 to 0.14 percentage points for milk fat and from 0.08 to 0.12 percentage points for milk protein. The amplitude of the milk fat rhythm generally was lower in southern markets and higher in northern markets. Second, the annual rhythm of milk yield and milk fat and protein yield and concentration were analyzed in monthly test day data from 1,684 cows from 11 tiestall herds in Pennsylvania. Fat and protein concentration fit an annual rhythm in all herds, whereas milk and milk fat and protein yield only fit rhythms in 8 of the 11 herds. On average, milk yield peaked in April, fat and protein yield peaked in February, fat concentration peaked in January, and protein concentration peaked in December. Amplitudes of milk, fat, and protein yield averaged 0.82 kg, 55.3 g, and 30.4 g, respectively. Milk fat and protein concentration had average amplitudes of 0.12 and 0.07, respectively, similar to the results of the milk market data. Generally, milk yield and milk components fit annual rhythm regardless of parity or diacylglycerol O-acyltransferase 1 (DGAT1) K232A polymorphism, with only cows of the low-frequency AA genotype (5.2% of total cows) failing to fit rhythm of milk yield. In conclusion, the yearly rhythms of milk yield and fat and protein concentration and yield consistently occur regardless of region, herd, parity, or DGAT1 genotype and supports generation by a conserved endogenous annual rhythm.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)742-753
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Dairy Science
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2019
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors gratefully acknowledge Jared Daubert (Penn State University, University Park) for assistance with data collection, the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (Washington, DC) for the use of federal milk marketing order production data, the eleven Pennsylvania dairy herds that participated in the study, and Neogen (Lansing, MI) for genotyping assistance. Research supported in part by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative Competitive Grant no. 2015-67015-23358 and 2016-68008-25025 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (Washington, DC), NIH Training Grant no. GM108563 (Bethesda, MD), and Penn State University including USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture Federal Appropriations under project number PEN04539 and accession number 1000803

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 American Dairy Science Association


  • annual rhythm
  • milk fat
  • milk synthesis
  • seasonal rhythm


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