In order to describe the temporal evolution of milk yield (MY) and composition in extended lactations, 21 658 lactations of Italian Holstein cows were analyzed. Six empirical mathematical models currently used to fit 305 standard lactations (Wood, Wilmink, Legendre, Ali and Schaeffer, quadratic and cubic splines) and one function developed specifically for extended lactations (a modification of the Dijkstra model) were tested to identify a suitable function for describing patterns until 1000 days in milk (DIM). Comparison was performed on individual patterns and on average curves grouped according to parity (primiparous and multiparous) and lactation length (standard ⩽305 days, and extended from 600 to 1000 days). For average patterns, polynomial models showed better fitting performances when compared with the three or four parameters models. However, LEG and spline regression, showed poor prediction ability at the extremes of the lactation trajectory. The Ali and Schaeffer polynomial and Dijkstra function were effective in modelling average curves for MY and protein percentage, whereas a reduced fitting ability was observed for fat percentage and somatic cell score. When individual patterns were fitted, polynomial models outperformed nonlinear functions. No detectable differences were observed between standard and extended patterns in the initial phase of lactation, with similar values of peak production and time at peak. A considerable difference in persistency was observed between 200 and 305 DIM. Such a difference resulted in an estimated difference between standard and extended cycle of about 7 and 9 kg/day for daily yield at 305 DIM and of 463 and 677 kg of cumulated milk production at 305 DIM for the first- and second-parity groups, respectively. For first and later lactation animals, peak yield estimates were nearly 31 and 38 kg, respectively, and occurred at around 65 and 40 days. The asymptotic level of production was around 9 kg for multiparous cows, whereas the estimate was negative for first parity.