15 June 2001

Producers must keep eye on fat percentages

By Richard Allison

LOW milk quota leasing costs and higher milk prices present an opportunity to maximise milk output with marginal returns 5p/litre greater than last year, but producers still need to watch milk fat % this summer.

According to the Intervention Board, last months UK milk fat was 3.86%, the lowest May figure for the last eight years. This mirrors the latest NMR data which shows milk fat 0.1% lower than the same time last year.

Luppo Diepenbroek of Devon-based Mole Valley Farmers believes this low fat is due to rapid grass growth during the first two weeks of May, resulting in a high sugar, low fibre grass.

This is still a problem in grass/clover swards, according to pasture into profit grazing consultant Carol Gibson, and when high levels of concentrates or brewers grains are being fed. "Remember that it should improve with time as grass becomes more stemy and fibrous," she adds.

But for producers who are paid on quality, instead of volume, low milk fat content incurs a financial penalty, warns Ian Powell, ADAS. "Unlike white water contracts, they have a minimum milk fat content and being below this will lead to a price reduction up to 2p/% fat."

This minimum milk fat content must be considered when pushing for extra milk yield this summer to take advantage of the improved margins, advises Tim Davies of Kite Consulting.

"To optimise milk fat content, balance the ration for starch and fibre. As a rule of thumb, aim for a minimum of 32% neutral detergent fibre in the dry matter. This is equivalent to 7-8kg of long fibre DM, but the problem is knowing how much grass cows are eating."

Mr Davies considers supplementing cows at grass with concentrates as a cheap option for increasing milk yield. Maize gluten, citrus pulp and cereals are currently about £80/t, which is similar to grass silage on a DM basis.

"Concentrates are much better at increasing energy intake and stimulating milk production than silage, but contain less fibre. Therefore consider using more fibrous feeds such as sugar beet pulp or citrus pulp, instead of starchy cereals.

"Including straw in the buffer feed will also stimulate milk fat, but it tends to dry up milk production. Caustic treated straw and nutritionally improved straw pellets are a better option as they are more digestible."

This summer, July will be the key month for maximising milk output for many producers with the seasonality adjustment edging the milk price towards 23p/litre, says Mr Powell. However, June has a negative seasonality adjustment which may tempt some to ease back on supplementary feed.

"Watch that cows dont dry off during June when grass growth slows. Waiting until July to start buffer feeding could be too late, as production will not recover for cows that are post peak yield," he warns.n

AVOIDING LOW FAT

&#8226 Consider cow yield.

&#8226 Buffer feed with fibrous feeds.

&#8226 Balance starch and fibre.