The objectives of this study were to characterize the variation in curd firmness model parameters obtained from coagulating bovine milk samples, and to investigate the effects of the dairy system, season, individual farm, and factors related to individual cows (days in milk and parity). Individual milk samples (n=1,264) were collected during the evening milking of 85 farms representing different environments and farming systems in the northeastern Italian Alps. The dairy herds were classified into 4 farming system categories: traditional system with tied animals (29 herds), modern dairy systems with traditional feeding based on hay and compound feed (30 herds), modern dairy system with total mixed ration (TMR) that included silage as a large proportion of the diet (9 herds), and modern dairy system with silage-free TMR (17 herds). Milk samples were analyzed for milk composition and coagulation properties, and parameters were modeled using curd firmness measures (CFt) collected every 15 s from a lacto-dynamographic analysis of 90min. When compared with traditional milk coagulation properties (MCP), the curd firming measures showed greater variability and yielded a more accurate description of the milk coagulation process: the model converged for 93.1% of the milk samples, allowing estimation of 4 CFtparameters and 2 derived traits [maximum CF (CFmax) and time from rennet addition to CFmax(tmax)] for each sample. The milk samples whose CFtequations did not converge showed longer rennet coagulation times obtained from the model (RCTeq) and higher somatic cell score, and came from less-productive cows. Among the sources of variation tested for the CFtparameters, dairy herd system yielded the greatest differences for the contrast between the traditional farm and the 3 modern farms, with the latter showing earlier coagulation and greater instant syneresis rate constant (kSR). The use of TMR yielded a greater tmaxbecause of a higher instant curd-firming rate constant (kCF). Season of sampling was found to be very important, yielding higher values during winter for all traits except kCFand kSR. All CFttraits were affected by individual cow factors. For parity, milk produced by first-lactation cows showed higher kCFand kSR, but delays in achieving CFmax. With respect to stage of lactation, RCTeqand potential asymptotic CF increased during the middle of lactation and stabilized thereafter, whereas the 2 instant rate constants presented the opposite pattern, with the lowest (kCF) and highest (kSR) values occurring in mid lactation. The new challenge offered by prolonging the test interval and individual modeling of milk technological properties allowed us to study the effects of parameters related to the environment and to individual cows. This novel strategy may be useful for investigating the genetic variability of these new coagulation traits.
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