5 tips to increase milk fat production

University of Minnesota Extension, Stacey Caughey

Adding value to your milk check is all about balancing between your overall milk production and components. In some situations, increasing the amount of milk fat can boost your bottom line. Whether your herd is struggling with milk fat depression or you are looking to capture additional value from milk, follow these five tips on how you can possibly increase milk fat in dairy cows.

1. Forage Quality

You want to emphasize the importance of harvesting and preserving high-quality forages. Make sure forages are harvested on time and at the correct moisture. You want to protect all those hard efforts with proper packing and storage practices. Try and use two layers of plastic and add an inoculant. The goal is to make sure the ensiled forages ferment properly and are free of molds and yeast.

If forages are of poor quality or not stored properly, not much can be done to cost-effectively minimize the negative impacts. Mold will negatively impact rumen fermentation and if you must deal with moldy forages, it will be a challenge to maximize rumen performance and enhance milk fat production.

2. Mixing and Delivering Properly

Over or under mixing dairy feed rations can alter what the cow eats and how the ration ferments in the rumen. Both can cause issues with rumen pH and cow health, leading to reduced component production. You will want to check to make sure your herd’s total mixed ration (TMR) is mixed properly at every feeding to help support milk fat production.

Preform regular maintenance checks on kicker plates, knives, and weigh bars to confirm they are in proper working order. Proper feed delivery and availability also impacts milk fat levels. Regularly push up feed to help reduce slug feeding in dairy cows. Slug feeding can alter rumen pH, leading to subclinical rumen acidosis.

3. Evaluate fiber and forage digestibility

Nearly half of milk fat precursors are made of short chain fatty acids produced during rumen fermentation of dietary fiber. High forage quality with digestible fiber helps increase milk fat yield. Another tool is the management of neutral detergent fiber digestibility (NDFD) to make certain it’s at the optimal level to support milk fat production.

Evaluation of particle length can be done both on a subjective, daily basis by monitoring feed bunks, as well as in a more objective manure by using the Penn State Shaker Box. Typically, you should see 7% in the top sieve for lactating diets. Cud chewing can also be a good indicator of optimal fiber and forage digestibility levels. Half or more of the cows at rest in a pen should be chewing their cud at any given time.

4. Starch and Fat Levels

Awareness of starch digestion rates in the rumen is critical when pursuing higher milk fat production. Different ingredients have faster rumen fermentation times than others, affecting rumen dynamics. Monitor the pounds and percentages of starch fed in a TMR. The type and quality of dietary fat are also important to support optimal levels of milk fat production, especially for promoting sustained lactation without depleting body reserves. A common dietary fat level is 5%. Higher levels can be successfully fed, depending on the other dietary nutrient levels that can impact milk fat yield.

5. Balance for Methionine and Lysine

Amino acids are an important tool to help maximize milk and component production. The right balance of amino acids can help support greater milk component yields and avoid milk fat depression.

However, balancing rations for amino acids without confirming that the other pieces of the nutrition puzzle mentioned above are in order will likely not result in the return on investment.

You want to make sure the rations include the highest quality forages possible. Then determine the rations are consistently delivered to cows are formulated. Once these factors are in place, then balance the ration for amino acids.

Please contact Stacey Caughey, Interim Extension Educator for Stearns, Benton and Morrison counties with any questions at 218-330-5737 or butle269@umn.edu


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