Consider Dietary Changes to Take Advantage of High Milk Protein Price

Dr. Bill Weiss, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, and Mrs. Dianne Shoemaker, Extension Farm Management Specialist, The Ohio State University Extension

Over the past several months, the value of milk protein has more than doubled while the value of milk fat is down about 10% (Table 1 and Figure 1). For a few years, up until August of 2019, milk fat was more valuable per pound than milk protein (Table 1 and Figure 1).  Since September, milk protein has become substantially more valuable than milk fat. In November, milk protein was worth $3.91/lb compared to milk fat at $2.32/lb. The highest value for milk protein occurred in June of 2008 when it hit $4.72/lb.

Because of the change in milk component prices, diets may need to be changed to take advantage of the price of milk protein. Increasing dietary starch at the expense of fiber usually increases milk protein yield but unfortunately reduces fat yield. Because of the high price of milk protein, consider increasing starch concentration of the diet but not so much that it causes health issues. On average, assuming the diet has adequate forage and fiber (i.e., does not cause ruminal acidosis), increasing starch concentration about 5 percentage units and reducing neutral detergent fiber (NDF) by the same amount is expected to increase the daily yield of milk protein of an average Holstein cow by about 0.075 lb but reduce milk fat by 0.06 lb. If the starch is replacing byproduct NDF, such as that from soyhulls, we do not expect dry matter intake to change. The cost of the diet per pound of dry matter likely would not change greatly, but it would depend on what ingredients are being used.  Using the average of the October and November component prices, a 5-percentage unit increase in starch could increase daily milk income by about $0.15 per cow with little effect on feed costs.

Feeding a proven source of rumen-protected methionine (RP-met) usually increases milk protein yield. The response varies depending on diet, but on average, feeding 20 g/day of methionine from RP-met is expected to increase milk protein yield by about 0.06 lb/day which is worth about $0.19/cow.  The cost of the RP-met product needs to be deducted from that return to determine whether it is a profitable decision. Feed intake is not expected to change so only the cost of the product needs to be considered.

Because of the high value of milk protein, increased emphasis should be placed on ensuring adequate intake of metabolizable protein and on the amino acid balance of the diet. Highly digestible protein supplements with the proper balance of amino acids are not cheap, but with milk protein worth in excess of $3/lb., feeding inadequate metabolizable protein or a diet with improper amino acid profile will likely be more costly.

Several different sources of supplemental fat are available and they can affect milk component yields differently. However, in general, supplemental fat decreases milk protein percentage but usually has no effect on milk protein yield. Some supplements, such as saturated fatty acids, may increase milk protein yield by up 0.05 to 0.1 lb/day. Supplemental fat usually increases milk fat yield by 0.1 to 0.2 lb/day. Because of the generally consistent response in milk fat yield to supplemental fat along with the high price of milk fat observed earlier in the year, feeding some supplemental fat was usually profitable. However, with the lower price for milk fat, the effect a fat supplement has on milk protein yield has a major impact on the economic return from supplemental fat. Fat supplementation, specifically the type of fat, should be reevaluated based on current milk component prices and expected change in component yield.  

Figure 1. Milk component prices over 2019 for Federal Order 33.

Data Source: USDA AMS Federal Milk Marketing Order 33

How long will milk protein be worth more than milk fat?  Some projections suggest that protein prices will gradually trend down from a November high.  To track trends, dairy farmers can find the announced prices either on their milk checks or at the Federal Milk Marketing Order 33 web site ( in the “Class and Component Prices” report.   

Table 1. Federal Milk Marketing Order 33 prices for milk fat and protein for first 11 months of 2019.

Month, 2019 Milk Fat, $/lb Milk Protein, $/lb
January 2.50 1.19
February 2.53 1.18
March 2.55 1.63
April 2.54 1.99
May 2.57 2.11
June 2.66 2.00
July 2.68 2.40
August 2.66 2.44
September 2.49 2.86
October 2.40 3.17
November 2.32 3.91
AVERAGE 2.54 2.26