HARRISBURG, Pa. – Shipping 7 pounds of combined milk fat and protein is the threshold minimum for improved profitability. Heather Dann of Miner Institute in Northeast New York was part of a panel discussion during the Pennsylvania Dairy Summit, which included Alan Waybright of Mount Rock Dairy, Newville, milking over 800 Holsteins and crossbreds, and Jennifer Heltzel of Piney Mar Farm, Martinsburg, milking 120 Holsteins.
“Focusing on maximizing fat and protein is a key driver of profitability on the dairy farm,” said Dann, noting that a few years ago Cornell Pro Dairy did research showing return on assets (ROA) is highly correlated to milk income over feed cost (IOFC), and the biggest thing to affect IOFC is pounds of components produced.
At the Miner Institute, 480 Holsteins produce 98 pounds/cow with 1262 pounds of fat and 945 pounds of protein.
Dann showed a Federal Milk Marketing Order graph of the USDA milk price value of fat and protein over the past 10 years. No matter where milk prices are at — the combined pounds of fat and protein should be 7 pounds, or more, for the best return, she said.
“Protein has typically been worth more than fat,” Dann observed. “But the goal is to maximize both (protein and fat) to achieve profitability.”
She noted that this can be done through higher levels of milk production or through lower levels of milk production containing higher pounds of fat and protein.
To calculate, add the fat percentage and the protein percentage and multiply that total percentage to the pounds of milk. The goal is to be in the 7-pound range or higher, and at a minimum to be over 6 pounds total.
“To maximize components, get the diet and the dining experience right,” said Dann, noting that most farms use a nutritionist, so rations are formulated. Where the biggest area of opportunity lies is in the management of that ration – from the forages that are harvested, stored and utilized to the feedout, mixing and delivery of the TMR.
On larger farms with different people doing the feeding, Dann noted the importance of feed management software like TMR tracker.
Waybright talked about feeding to 3% refusals and then incorporating those refusals back into the TMR. Heltzel noted her husband feeds for accuracy to 1% refusals. Being that they milk 2x instead of 3x, the cows use the overnight time as resting time.
Dann talked about a research project at Miner where video cameras captured cow activity overnight when the bunk was purposely left empty. There was a lot of standing around at the bunk waiting for feed, she said.
“We never want to see an empty bunk,” she said. “We looked at what cows do when they don’t have feed. We removed feed and watched them, putting up trail cameras and videos to document. We tend to think if there’s no feed, they’ll go lay down, but what we found is they stand idly and wait for feed.”
During this study, they used different stocking densities to see the consequences of feed access as well.
“Cows running out of feed is bad for everyone, and even worse when cows are overcrowded. When the feed is delivered, if there is less time to access it, this changes their behavior and leads to slug feeding,” said Dann.
These are just some examples of how management of the feeding situation can contribute to low rumen pH that affect milk fat production to create milk fat challenges.
“We want to focus on ration formulation to optimize forage inclusion to maintain rumen health for milk component yields. And, if we think about the steps in the process, have a goal to make the metabolized ration the same as the formulated ration,” Dann explained.
On the forage side, harvesting and storage for a quality fermentation is critical. Also, when it comes to mixing feed for cows, loading ingredients in the right order and the right amounts with the appropriate mixing time and good maintenance of the mixer are important.
Dann noted that pushing up feed within the first hour of delivery helps with sorting.
Preparing the cow for the next lactation with how she is fed in the dry period is also important.
Both Waybright and Heltzel indicated they keep their dry cow rations simple.
“We look to control energy intake for her to have a good appetite after calving, while providing enough metabolizable protein to build her protein reserves as a dry cow,” said Dann, adding that they are big advocates of amino acid balancing for both lactation and dry cow rations.
Dann said the fat is the most variable component in milk. She talked about the composition of milk fat and testing that is available to know the fatty acid composition – whether preformed fatty acids, De Novo fatty acids and the amount of mixed profile fatty acids.
The De Novo fatty acids are made in the mammary gland and formulated through rumen activity. The mixed profile can include De Novo as well as pass-through ingredients from the ration.
“The fiber in the diet, when fermented in the rumen, creates the building blocks of the milk fat,” said Dann, adding that the microbial protein that is part of this process is also a great source of amino acids for the cow on the protein production side.
In a 40-herd study, Miner looked at the components and found high fat herds also had high levels of the De Novo fatty acids – the ones produced in the mammary gland from rumen function. This finding supports the idea that focusing on rumen health maximizes fat and protein production, whereas the amount of time cows spend in low rumen pH can reduce milk fat production and may reduce milk protein production.
The research showed that high De Novo fatty acid herds tend to have managers that are five times more likely to deliver feed twice a day in a freestall environment and 11 times more likely to deliver feed five times a day in tie stalls.
“Fresh feed delivery motivates cows to eat,” said Dann. “The 2x/day feeders vs. 1x/day feeders saw decreased sorting, increased feed intake and milk yield as well as rumination for a healthier rumen. That higher pH translated to more De Novo fatty acids which led to higher fat content in the milk.”
The research also showed that among the 40 herds, the higher fat herds were 10 times more likely to be provided with at least 18-inches of bunk space per cow and 5 times more likely to see stocking densities at 110% or less.
“Overstocking changes feed behavior,” said Dann. “With overcrowding, the cows slug feed and are more aggressive at the bunk, and this decreases rumination, which modifies rumen pH and increases risk of subacute acidosis or time spent in low pH. When we see up to two hours or more a day of low rumen pH, this affects milk yield and components.”
Miner research also has shown that cows will prioritize lying time over eating time. They will sacrifice eating time to compensate for lost resting time. This is why paying attention to the time budgets of cows in milking and holding time is important, as well as keeping feed at the bunk so they are not standing around at the bunk not eating.
“We want them eating or lying down, not standing and waiting,” said Dann.
In short, said Dann, “We want to manage the herd, the cows, to optimize key behaviors that maximize milk components.”
This means implementing cow comfort strategies that enhance rest and rumination, keep feed available 24/7 and lead to consistent feed quality.
Carefully formulated rations plus great forage and feed management plus top notch management of the environment add up to more components – a key to more milk income.