Feeding for milk quality throughout the year

With factors outside of a farmer’s control dictating the base price on offer for their milk, maximising any available bonuses for Butterfat, Protein and Somatic Cell Count (SCC) levels will have a more than significant impact on the milk price received.

Stephen Rogers with David Simpson, United Feeds
Stephen Rogers with David Simpson, United Feeds

Breeding will have a major influence on a cow’s ability to produce milk solids and choosing bulls which can positively influence this should always be to the fore when making breeding decisions.

However, nutrition will play a significant part,and now is an equally appropriate time of the year for milk producers to address this issue as it would be mid-winter.

What are the dietary factors that can have a major impact on milk quality?

Forage intakes are the basis of any diet and are key in driving overall cow performance. Farmers should be targeting a minimum value of 11 kilos of dry matter per cow per day from high quality forages whether grazed or via silage. It is then essential that cows make optimal use of these forages with fibre digestion being critically important.

Fibre is a major component of ruminant diets with forages typically containing 45% – 55% fibre. Only about half of this is digestible and available for milk production, meaning there is huge potential in the form of energy that still lies ‘untapped’ within forage.

One way of boosting the digestibility of fibre is to include Amaferm™ in the concentrates fed to cows. Amaferm™ is a unique feed additive and the only one registered as a fibre digestion enhancer in the EU for inclusion in dairy cow diets, supported by more than 100 peer-reviewed studies. Extensive trials have shown that the inclusion of Amaferm™ in dairy cow diets can increase fibre digestion by up to 30%. This improvement in feed efficiency results in 31% more microbial protein and 16% more volatile fatty acids (VFAs), boosting milk yields by 4.8%, the equivalent to over 1.4 litres for a cow producing 30 litres.

Feeding protected fats will also act to boost milk quality. Bergafat, high in C16 fatty acids is one of the best proven products in this field.

Trials have shown Bergafat can lead to both yield and butterfat improvements. Furthermore, as it is a source of energy it can help counteract losses in body condition, supporting fertility and milk production.

Yea-Sacc® is a live yeast from Alltech that has repeatedly been proven to promote fibre digestion while simultaneously reducing the build-up of lactic acid in the rumen. Thanks to fewer wasted nutrients, more energy is available for production, which can help increase milk fat and protein.

Trace minerals, such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium play a crucial role in boosting a cow’s immune system. This, in turn, improves her ability to fight off disease subsequently reducing SCC levels.

When trace minerals are made available in the correct quantities and - more importantly – the correct form, the cow will be well placed to maintain a high health status while meeting all her production and fertility targets in full.

For example, selenium plays a key role in determining milk SCC levels while also helping the cow to ward off uterine infections post calving. Copper has a direct bearing on a cow’s predisposition to E Coli infections in the udder.

United Feeds’ Herd Care mineral package is unique in Northern Ireland as it provides Selenium, Copper, Zinc and Manganese in a wholly organic form. As a result, they are absorbed more efficiently by the cow than is the case with inorganic minerals, and are more available at all the relevant target tissues.

So much for the theory! The good news is that all of the nutritional factors that have been identified as having a major – and positive - impact on milk quality have been encapsulated within the specification of United Feeds’ Cream Maker range.

What’s more, the ration is being used to drive significant – and consistent –improvements in milk quality on hundreds of dairy farms across Northern Ireland.

A case in point is Stephen Rogers, who milks 90 Holstein cows with his father Robert on the family farm near Newmills in Co Tyrone.

The father and son team switched to United Feeds nutritional solutions at the start of Winter 2020 and they opted to feed the Cream Maker range from the outset after being made aware of the benefits it could yield for their herd. Stephen explained: “United Feeds formulate and produce a bespoke blend which is fed as part of the TMR to the cows. This is then complimented with nuts from the Cream Maker range being fed in-parlour.

“Our aim has always been to feed the best possible ingredients to the cows, which was why we opted for the Cream Maker ration from United Feeds.”

The Rogers’ herd is currently averaging 9,100 litres from approximately 3 tonnes of concentrate fed per cow per lactation.

However, it is the consistently high milk quality being achieved by the Rogers’ cows since moving to United Feeds’ that immediately catches the eye upon reviewing the overall performance of the herd.

Stephen takes up the story: “Butterfats are currently averaging 4.48% with proteins coming in at 3.35%. The rolling annual butterfat figure is now 4.41%: the protein equivalent is 3.43%.

“Butterfats peaked at 4.76% last winter. We are currently receiving 2.0ppl above base on the back of our milk quality figures.

“Yes, we are breeding for milk quality, but the nutritional package United Feeds are providing here is also having a major impact on herd performance.”

Stephen works closely with his local United Feeds’ Ruminant Nutrition Advisor David Simpson, who was a recent visitor to the Rogers’ farm.

“Part of the programme we are on with Robert and Stephen’s herd is to reduce the overall levels of protein fed to the cows, aiming for both high production and fertility.

“Stephen was able to feed two different blends which enabled us to tailor nutrition to the fresh cows and stale cows separately, maximising production at all stages of lactation. Over the winter months a combination of 2020 silages and wholecrop was fed. Currently the staler batch are grazing full time, and the fresher/higher yielding cows are housed on a TMR consisting of 2019 2nd cut silage.

“Forage intakes are 12.8kg in this batch, and a blend was formulated to complement the silage, leaving the TMR at 16.1% protein. Both batches are topped up with Cream Maker 17 nut in-parlour.

“Together the starch source and starch level of the diet is another key consideration when driving milk yield and quality. It’s safer in terms of rumen health to increase starch levels when you have good forage intakes and when fibre digestion is working efficiently, as is the case with the Rogers’ herd,” David explained.

“The combination of Cream Maker and a commitment to reduce the protein specification of the feeds on-offer is working to improve both milk quality and overall herd fertility on this farm whilst still maintaining high yields.”

David concluded “At United Feeds we take each farm situation on its own merits and tailor solutions to suit that specific herd.”

If you would like to talk to a United Feeds representative to discuss your specific herd requirements contact them on 028 9075 9000 or find your local advisor at www.UFeeds.com.