With milk processors putting increasing emphasis on milk constituent levels, producers are being advised to mitigate against a drop in butterfat and protein levels to avoid costly contract penalties.
"The 'standard' litre price for some manufacturing contracts is now based on achieving butterfat at 4.2% and protein at 3.4%," says Trident Feeds’ Matt Stearn. "These levels are higher than previous targets and, therefore, many producers face potential penalties if constituent levels drop following turnout."
Natural drop in milk solids
Mr Stearn explains that a natural drop in milk solids, particularly butterfat levels, is common when cows are freshly turned out to grass. "The fibre-digesting bacteria in the rumen take up to 14 days to adjust to major changes in forage supply and as butterfat production relies on the products of rumen fermentation, this can cause a sudden drop in butterfat levels. With turnout and a change in diet from silage to fresh grass approaching, producers should take steps to avoid this risk and the subsequent impact on the milk cheque."
Maximise milk value
Mr Stearn suggests feeding a buffer with appropriate supplements alongside grazing, to ensure that milk fat levels are maintained and milk value is maximised. "With the cold, wintery start to March impacting grass growth and quality, supplementary feeding is likely to be required to help balance the ration and avoid a negative effect on milk fat,” he says.
"Spring grass can potentially provide high levels of linolenic and linoleic acid. These are polyunsaturated fatty acids and are major culprits for suppressing butterfat synthesis in the udder, particularly in diets with low NDF content. This can also upset rumen pH, increasing the risk of sub-acute rumen acidosis. So rations should be balanced with effective fibre sources, such as straw, to maintain a balanced rumen."
Rumen protected fat
Mr Stearn adds that producers should look to include a rumen protected fat in the buffer ration to prevent this from occurring. The inclusion of a high C16 rumen-protected fat, such as Butterfat Extra, can show swift improvements to milk fat percentages when incorporated in balanced rations. Typical production responses, of up to 0.3% increase in butterfat and a lift of up to one litre of milk, deliver a good return on investment.
"For a 100-cow herd currently producing 31 litres per cow per day, feeding 0.3kg per head of Butterfat Extra could result in an extra profit of £2,315 during a 100-day period, due to increases in both butterfat and milk yield.”