Feeding for greater protein and fat levels to take advantage of high milk component prices has been a hot topic this year. Ensuring that the cow’s requirements for metabolizable protein, essential amino acids, and energy are met requires an unwavering focus on feeding highly digestible forages and skillful ration formulation.
If the goal is to produce 6 or 7 pounds of fat and protein per day, what does the farmer need to focus on? Most herds rely on a nutritionist to formulate well-balanced rations, and so the best use of the farmer’s time is to focus on herd management.
Research over the past few years tells us that feedbunk management is just as important as the ration when it comes to higher milk components. We assessed 79 dairy farms in Vermont and New York to determine what factors were most related to higher output of milkfat and protein. Nutritionally, ration fiber and fat content came out on top, which makes sense.
The big two
But two management factors also had a major impact on milkfat and protein: stocking density and feeding frequency of the ration. Herds producing the most milkfat and protein provided at least 18 inches per cow of feedbunk space and kept stall stocking density less than 110%. These herds also fed the total mixed ration twice daily rather than only once.
Avoiding overcrowding and empty feedbunks discourages slug feeding and encourages ample resting and rumination. Cows that aren’t rushed while feeding and have the freedom to lie down to ruminate tend to have higher rumen pH. We know that avoiding rumen acidosis promotes fiber fermentation and more milk components.
Other top management strategies that boost milk protein and fat include separating first-calf heifers from mature cows, feeding rations that are difficult to sort, and keeping feed pushed up and within easy reach of the cow.
Carefully formulated rations combined with top-notch feedbunk management translate into more pounds of milkfat and protein.