10 tips to boost milk fat

One trend held true for the first nine months of 2010: low milk fat levels. While no one reason has been pinpointed as the culprit, the cold 2009 growing season and late harvest, coupled with the increased use of variable corn-based byproducts, may be to blame. To help fight milk fat declines, use these tried and true 10 nutrition steps proven to regain component losses:

  1. Buffer the rumen. While other factors impact milk fat depression (MFD), rumen pH is the most important factor to investigate as milk fat levels decline. Short bouts of reduced rumen pH — even without signs of rumen acidosis—can cause MFD.
  2. Deliver adequate fiber. Provide adequate levels of effective fiber, which helps slow the passage of nutrients through the rumen and serves as a natural buffer. Deliver a ration with at least 23 percent effective fiber, utilizing high-quality forages to meet this goal. Feeding low-quality forages and/or lower quantities of ration neutral detergent fiber (NDF) can increase the risk of MFD.
  3. Manage the bunk. Review dry matter intake (DMI) records to identify any large fluctuations in intake. Monitor crowding and bunk space availability to ensure cows have ample space to express normal feeding behavior.
  4. Examine unsaturated fatty acids. Balance diets with ruminally available unsaturated fatty acid levels below 2% of dry matter as higher levels can contribute to MFD. Also, deliver consistent energy levels to the cow by feeding a high-quality rumen bypass fat source.
  5. Assess ration starch. Starch and sugar levels should constitute about 30 percent of the diet unless a source of highly soluble fiber is available. Higher dietary starch levels can result in poor rumen fermentation and reduce volatile fatty acid (VFA) production. VFAs are responsible for a large portion of the fat destined for the udder.
  6. Provide high-quality protein. Diets deficient in protein can be a cause of MFD. Delivering limiting amino acids — specifically lysine and methionine — at the right levels and ratios is important to capture peak milk and component production.
  7. Check mineral levels. Test forages to determine levels of key dietary minerals. Some research has found that as chloride exceeds 0.35 percent of dry matter, the risk of MFD, reduced DMI and production losses increases.
  8. Calculate ration DCAD. A lactating ration with a Dietary Cation-Anion Difference (DCAD) of +35 to +45 meq/100g ration dry matter has been shown to improve milk fat production¹. Boosting potassium to 1.8 percent of dry matter and decreasing chloride levels can help achieve the goal of a higher ration DCAD.
  9. Feed at manufacturers’ rates. Feed ingredients according to manufacturers’ recommendations to minimize any potential negative effects. While some feed ingredients may not be a primary factor for MFD, they can contribute when other factors go awry.
  10. Monitor progress. Milk fat responses to ration changes can be seen relatively quickly, sometimes within only a few weeks. While some of the ration changes can increase input costs, regained component production can cover the cost and then some, leading to an increase in Income Over Feed Cost for your operation.

To learn more about the milk fat checklist, contact your Arm & Hammer Representative. Read the Arm & Hammer Peak Report Online.

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