Dairy producers, like most producers, want to be able to get the best price they can for the products they sell.
While the milk market prices do fluctuate, higher prices can sometimes be gained by increasing milk components – provided the producer can keep their feed and production costs in check to make it a financially worthy endeavor.
So what are milk components? Most milk marketing orders in the U.S. employ a multiple component pricing system that pays producers on the basis of milk fat, true protein and other dairy solids. This pricing method derives component values from prices for manufactured dairy products (cheese, butter, nonfat dry milk and dry whey), which rise and fall with changing market conditions. As a result, milk component levels are important factors in herd management. In addition to being indicators of cow health and nutrition, component levels directly impact farm income.
How should a producer feed lactating cows to achieve higher milk components?
The key to getting high milk production, along with high components, is feeding a diet that’s accurately balanced for fermentable carbohydrates along with protein sources that feed the rumen microbes. To get there requires high-quality feedstuffs, aggressive reproduction management, and paying close attention to details such as feeding and milking schedules, as well as cow comfort.
Dairy experts note the importance of good quality forages in a cow’s diet.
Getting high butterfat tests are directly tied to highly digestible forages, effective fiber, and a properly buffered rumen environment, and blood glucose.
Fermentable carbohydrates, which come primarily from the grains and by-product commodities, are fermented into fatty acids that ultimately convert to glucose in the liver.
The importance of the balance between protein and amino acids is also not to be ignored.
“The primary focus of protein nutrition is the rumen degradable protein (RDP) which is the nitrogen source for the rumen microbes,” John Himba, dairy nutrition consultant for Central Connecticut Cooperative Farmers, has said. “The protein a cow needs for her systemic metabolic needs comes from the spent rumen microbes absorbed in the small intestine, along with additional rumen undegradable protein (RUP) supplied through the diet. Both milk yield and milk protein levels depend on both the percentages and levels of essential amino acids contained in the protein that’s absorbed through the small intestine. These metabolizable amino acids have their greatest positive impact on milk production when they are at levels similar to that of the cow’s tissue. The research has shown that the most limiting amino acids are lysine and methionine.”
Producers should consult with a professional nutritionist to create a feed mix that supports all of these elements.
According to Penn State Extension, it’s not just the feed itself that contributes to the milk components, but also the management of the feeding. Any situation that causes cows to eat abnormally or limits feed intake may affect milk components. Examples include: overcrowding at feed bunks, housing heifers with older cows in facilities at or near full capacity, feeding rations that encourage sorting, feeding infrequently in a conventional system (non-TMR), failing to push feed up or feed TMR often enough, feeding protein feeds before energy feeds and feeding grain before forage in non-TMR systems.
These conditions can create slug feeding (one or two meals per day versus 10 to 15) or allow cows to eat high grain meals part of the time and high forage meals the remainder of the day. Ensure that fresh feed is available 20 hours each day, spoiled feed is removed from bunks, and shade or cooling is provided during hot weather to help maintain normal intake and normal meal patterns.
With some research, management and careful budgeting, producers can achieve higher milk components without breaking the bank.


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