Feeding for Milk Components

Dr. Maurice L. Eastridge, Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, Department of Animal Sciences, The Ohio State University

Yields of milk and milk solids per cow continue to increase each year. The annual milk solids yield per cow is higher in the US than for New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina (Figure 1). Except in only selective markets today in the US, dairy farmers are paid for milk by processors primarily on milk fat and protein yields. Therefore, considerable focus needs to be on the yields of milk solids, especially yields of fat and protein to improve farm profitability. In a recent survey (Nichols, 2023), benchmarking information from 35 Michigan and Indiana Holstein dairy farms was collected. The average herd size was 452 cows with herd size ranging from 90 to 2,000 cows and eight of the dairy farms used automated milking systems. Among the 35 herds, milk yield averaged 84.4 lb/day, DM intake 56.2 lb, milk fat 4.08%, and milk protein 3.21%. From these averages, feed efficiency was 1.65 lb energy-corrected milk/lb DMI, milk fat and protein yield (MFPY) was 6.15 lb/cow/day, and efficiency of MFPY was 0.11 lb/lb DMI.

The prices paid for milk fat and protein from January 2020 to February 2023 are provided in Figure 2. Traditionally, milk protein was at a higher price than milk fat, even as evidenced during most of 2020 and 2021 (even though this period of time was during the pandemic). However, much of 2022, fat was valued higher than protein. Fat and protein started 2023 being of similar value, but protein slipped below fat in February 2023 at $2.365/lb and 2.718, respecivelty. A summary of the primary feeding factors that affect milk fat and protien yields have been provided by Weiss and Shoemaker (2020). The main dietary factors that are related to increased milk protein yield are:

  1. Increasing dietary starch concentrations (but not so much as to cause acidosis),
  2. Increasing dietary inclusion of fermentable starch, such as high moisture corn,
  3. Increasing concentrations of high-quality undegradable protein,
  4. Improving amino acid profile by feeding specific protein sources or by feeding rumen-protected amino acids, especially methionine, and
  5. Reducing the concentration of dietary fat (fat supplements, distiller grains, whole cottonseed, or whole soybeans).

The main factors related to increased milk fat yields are:

  1. Reducing dietary starch concentrations,
  2. Reducing dietary inclusion of fermentable starch sources,
  3. Increasing inclusion rate of specific supplemental fat (e.g., sources of palmitic acid),
  4. Increasing dietary cation anion difference (i.e., feed more potassium and sodium without increasing dietary chloride or sulfur), and
  5. Reducing dietary sulfur concentrations to just meet requirements (practically this usually means reducing inclusion rate of distiller grains which are usually high in sulfur).

During 2023, the fat and protein prices paid to dairy farmers will likely be volatile. Therefore, farmers need to be attentive to these price shifts and work with their nutritionist to capatilize on optimizing fat and protein yields as markets shift.

 Figure 1. Yield of milk solids per cow per year fior the US, New Zealand, Germany, and Argentina (Britt et al., 2021).

 Figure 2. Prices paid for milk fat and milk protein in Federal Order 33 from January 2020 through February 2023.


Britt, J.H., R.A. Cushman, C.D. Dechow, H. Dobson, P. Humblot, M.F. Hutjens, G.A. Jones, F.M. Mitloehner, P.L. Ruegg, I.M. Sheldon, and J.S. Stevenson. 2021. Review: Perspective on high-performing dairy cows and herds. Animal 15 (Suppl 1); https://doi.org/10.1016/j.animal.2021.100298

Nichols, S. 2023. Benchmarking survey helps farms evaluate IOFC. VitaPlus Dairy Performance, Accessed March 30, 2023, https://www.vitaplus.com/dairy-performance/benchmarking-survey-helps-farms-evaluate-iofc/#.ZCZLGXbMJPY

Weiss, B.W. and D. Shoemaker. 2020. Consider dietary changes to take advantage of changes in milk component prices. DIBS # 43-20, Ohio State University Extension, Accessed March 31, 2023, https://dairy.osu.edu/sites/dairy/files/imce/DIBS/DIB%2043-20%20DIB%2043-20%20Consider%20dietary%20changes%20to%20take%20advantage%20of%20changes%20in%20milk%20component%20prices.pdf