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Producing High-Value Milk

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Component pricing for milk is the norm in much of the United States and in Canada, meaning producers receive payment for their milk based on the total weights of fat, protein and solids in the milk.

Value is placed on these components thanks to consumer demand for “premium” dairy products, such as yogurt, cheese and ice cream, which require high levels of fat and protein for production. Some breeds are known for producing high-component milk, but even within breeds there can be large variations in the amounts of components produced. Some variation can be attributed to weather or genetics, but there remains a large portion of variability that is related to nutrition, offering an opportunity for producers to control component levels and increase income.

Before we dive into manipulating component levels, let’s quickly review how milk components are created. Milk components are synthesized in the mammary gland constantly throughout the day from nutrients removed from the blood. These include minerals, glucose to form milk sugar, fatty acids to produce milk fat, and amino acids derived from protein. The availability of these nutrients to the mammary cells determines the production of components.

So how can nutrition affect milk components? It is relatively easy for nutrition to affect fat, which can be modified by the amount of fiber in the diet, and by supplementing the diet with more saturated fatty acids. Higher-fiber diets buffer the rumen, and fatty acids can be transported directly to the mammary gland. Protein, the more valuable component, is somewhat more difficult to positively control, but is particularly sensitive to unbalanced amino acids levels, which can negatively affect protein levels. Correctly formulating a ration with components in mind can make a huge difference in the component levels producers are seeing in their milk.

When you’re formulating the perfect ration for component production, you need to make sure that the nutrients are available to the cow. The first step in ensuring that nutrients are available for component creation is to make certain that the rumen is working as it should. This means that fiber digestion and microbial production (a key source of amino acids) are maximized.

When diets are well balanced, well mixed and in front of cows at all times, the rumen remains healthy. Simple acts like ensuring feed is mixed properly or pushing up feed are very effective means of maintaining rumen health and influencing component levels.

The second step in ensuring nutrient availability is to supplement forages with ingredients that complement the nutrients provided to the cow by the rumen. Particularly, when supporting milk protein production, it is important to make sure that all essential amino acids are available. Excesses, however, need to be avoided, as they contribute to waste.

Picking your protein source is also crucial to milk component production. Canola meal has repeatedly been proven to provide higher amounts of rumen undegraded protein (RUP) than many other vegetable proteins. Canola meal also has an amino acid profile that is very similar to the profile the mammary gland needs for milk protein synthesis. This means that canola meal is a very efficient protein ingredient, and is effective in maintaining high milk protein as well as producer profits. To learn more about canola meal’s applications in feeding dairy cows, click here.