Regardless of how you are being paid for your milk, butterfat milk definitely plays a big role to your farm's profitability.
Back in 2011, butterfat averaged $2.15 per hundredweight. That is no small figure. Hence, when milk fat is depressed, it is essential to quickly find the cause and solution to rectify the problem.
Farmers will usually blame the hot weather. Although weather does play a role in depressed milk fat, often times it is only one of the reason as milk fat depression is caused by many different factors.
Here are the few key areas you need to focus on that can influence milk fat production:
1. Total Mixed Ration (TMR)
It is crucial to evaluate the total mixed ration. Important things to take note is the delivery times, feed refusals, sufficient bunk space and over crowding. It is very important to avoid slug feeding as it will create subclinical acidosis which will impact milk fat.
2. Forages and fiber level in the cows' diet
It is important to examine the forage and fiber level in the cows' diet. It is encourage to use Penn State Shaker Box to evaluate the particle length. The goal is to get 47% of the TMR in the bottom and 7% on top.
One of the good indicators of forage and fiber in diet is cud chewing. Goal is to have over 50% of the pen to be chewing their cud. It is also important to take note of the percent of neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD) in order to make sure it is not too high.
3. Starch level in the diet
Evaluate the percent of starch being fed to the animals. It is encouraged to use technology such as rumen degradable starch testing which will help assess starch levels in the ration ingredients as well as how they will perform in the cow. Different ingredients will ferment at a different rate in the rumen. Hence, this will affect the dynamics of the rumen and have an impact on milk fat levels.
When troubleshooting milk fat, it is important to take note of the rate of starch digestion, especially in the rumen. Rumen degradable starch testing will allow you to quickly rule out starch as the main culprit of depressed milk fat levels.
4. Fats - saturated vs rumen inert
Take note of the fat level and source in the diet. Do not exceed more than 5% of fat in the diet. Be mindful of polyunsatured fatty acid (PUFA) levels.
First thing is to maintain proper fat levels. Once fat levels are maintained, it is important to then evaluate the source of fat. Different compositions of fat will affect the milk fat. Continued use of highly unsaturated byproducts to other animals will impact the saturation level of the tallow. As a result, the saturation level of the fat sources at the mill you work might changed without your knowledge.
5. Yeast and molds level
Evaluate the yeast and mold level in the diet. It is important to lower the amount of feed coming from affected source. If feed is affected, dilute it with non-affected feedstuffs.
6. Feed additive
Consider using feed additive that will help improve milk fat levels such as rumen bypass fats.
There are many factors affecting milk fat. Hence, it is important to be aware of all the components as it will allow you to quickly fix the problem simultaneously.
The rule of thumb when formulating rations is to feed the cow exactly what she needs, when she needs it and where she needs it - nothing more or less. This will help farmers increase efficiency and improve farm's profitability.