Feeding for every penny in the milk check

Feeding practices are fundamental in optimizing the income from milk.

milk poured into glass
(Farm and Dairy file photo)

I am writing this on the first official day of the 2016 summer, so maybe I should be writing on heat abatement in dairy herds since it is hot and humid. But, you probably prepared for this at least a couple of months ago.

The adage of “a penny saved is a penny earned” is not practiced much anymore in the literal cents (note spelling). A penny on the pavement is seldom picked up. But not me, if I see a penny, I pick it up.

I was also reminded of this principle when my son and his family recently moved. Before they moved, they took a glass jug filled with coins to the bank — $400, wow! Of course, I don’t know how many pennies versus nickels, dimes and quarters there were in the jug, but there were a lot of coins.

Big squeeze

With low milk prices, it’s important, as the saying goes, to “squeeze every penny possible out of the milk check.”

Using Federal Order 33 prices for May 2016, Table 1 was constructed to demonstrate how changes in yield of milk and milk components affect income.

Table 1. Milk income scenarios based on changes in production

Federal Order 33 Prices, May 2016 ($/lb)Base Income ($/day)Decrease 2 lb/day milk ($/day)Decrease from 3.6 to 3.4% fat ($/day)Decrease from 3.2 to 3.1% protein1 ($/day)Decrease in milk fat and protein2 ($/day)
Other solids0.05290.
Total per cow$10.009.739.669.899.30
Diff./cow from basexx0.270.340.110.70
Diff. for 500 cowsxx13517055350
1 Based on 75 lb milk with 3.6% fat, 3.2% protein and 6.2% other solids
2 Decrease in 2 lb/day milk, from 3.6 to 3.4% fat, and 3.2 to 3.1% protein


Note the high value of fat relative to protein or other solids. Although the changes illustrated may seem very small — 2 pounds of milk, 2 units of fat, and/or 1 unit of protein — they can translate to many lost dollars, more than just pennies.

Feeding practices are fundamental in optimizing the income from the milk, thus we put a lot of focus on income over feed costs (IOFC). Here are a few suggestions on feeding to make sure you are getting every penny from you milk check when it comes to IOFC.

Of course, the focus needs to be on yield of these components rather than percentage of the milk volume.

Feeding for P

Check for adequate total protein intake and then the balance between rumen degradable and undegradable protein for adequate metabolizable protein for the cow.

Quality of the protein source should be evaluated, especially the quality of grasses and legumes, however they are harvested, and the quality of the medium and high protein concentrate supplements.

If the supply of metabolizable lysine or methionine is limited, rumen protected sources of the limited amino acid may be warranted, and if they can be specifically fed to the targeted group for which these amino acids are limited.

Feeding for milk fat

The first primary focus for yield of milk fat should be on the carbohydrates in the diet.

The amount and digestibility of the starch in the diet will be fundamental in meeting the animal’s energy needs and for providing precursors for the synthesis of milk fat. Yet, sufficient fiber will be needed to keep rumen pH between 6.0 to 6.5 and the microbial population prolific.

Feeding unsaturated fat should be limited so that it does not interfere within ruminal fermentation and upper levels of dietary fat will need to be met with commercially available inert sources.

Several feed additives may have value in maintaining a healthy rumen or affect metabolism of fat in the liver or mammary gland that may have value and thus you may want to talk this over with your nutritionist.

Feeding for milk yield (other solids)

Inadequate intake of any or all nutrients can limit milk yield, thus we focus on providing a balanced diet and intakes of dry matter (DM) and water. Feed quality, delivery, and management in the bunk can affect DM intake.

For each pound of DM intake, cows should be producing 1.4 to 1.6 pounds of milk. Each incremental pound of DM intake should result in about two pounds of milk since maintenance needs have already been met.

Non-lactating cows need 10 to 12 gallons of water per day and lactating cows should consume 30 to 40 gallons per day.

Pay attention

What appears to be somewhat minor changes in yield of milk or milk components, often caused by feeding practices, can result in major impacts on IOFC. These changes should not go unnoticed.

Also, as the value of milk components change, the emphasis on yield of fat versus protein may need to change. For example at the present time, fat is about 1.5 times the value of protein; however, sometimes protein is priced at 1.5 times or more that of fat.

We need to focus on how our feeding practices can help us pinch every penny out of the milk check.


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