7 June 1996


By Jessica Buss

INCREASING milk protein may fail to improve the profit potential of some units, according to Dave Roberts of Dairy Research and Consultancy, Crichton Royal Farm, Dumfries, Scotland.

He advises calculating the extra income available from milk contracts before altering herd management specifically to increase proteins.

"Profit may be improved more easily by concentrating on herd health, fertility and making good silage," he says. Good silage costs no more than poor silage, yet it is too easy to forget this and try to fine-tune feeding, he says.

He cautions that it could possibly be better to stick with low protein production even when paid well for protein. When good yields are achieved on a simple feeding system, and the farm makes a good profit, altering feeding could fail to justify the cost.

Changes to feeding could be expensive, he says. Instead it might be worth improving milk protein in the long term by sire selection. In some cases it might be beneficial to change milk buyer. However, before doing so, he advises checking the differences in TBC payments, collection charges and the long-term viability of the contract.

Measures to increase milk protein supply could also increase milk yield, says Dr Roberts. Extra quota needed is another cost.

"When protein content can be increased without altering yields it may be more valuable," he says.

For producers who could benefit from increasing milk proteins Dr Roberts recommends examining trial results carefully before making any changes. Then work out how to apply the technology to your unit.

Before changing management in line with research based on maize silage, consider what effect it will have on herd performance if for example grass silage was fed in the trial. He also suggests watching milk protein levels at the start of any trial. Dont expect protein increases of 0.3% achieved in a study that started at 2.8% when your herd was at 3.2%.

The most efficient way to boost milk protein is to ensure cows achieve good forage intakes, says Dr Roberts.

"Milk protein is related to energy and when you can increase the energy supply milk quality increases," he says. "Energy supply is lifted by offering alternative forages, good quality silage and then concentrates.

"Feed intakes can also be influenced by the way you present feed to the cow. When troughs are dirty cow intakes will be reduced."

In summer lack of grazing will reduce cow feed intakes. Dr Roberts cites as an example one DRC Vanguard consultancy herd where milk protein fell below 3% last August due to lack of feed and water. Milk proteins were restored by managing cows as two groups and offering fresh calvers extra cake.

However, he admits concentrate feeding may be an expensive way to increase milk proteins which can be achieved on low input systems.

The Scottish Agricultural Colleges Acrehead unit averaged 5500 litres a cow at 3.3% protein, when good quality silage made from clover swards was offered. Yet the farm feeds under 0.1kg/litre of a blended high protein concentrate.

Last summers drought proved the importance of quality forage at the unit. Cows offered poor quality silage and straw, added to the ration to make up the shortfall in quantity, averaged 3.2% proteins.n

Choosing high milk proteins may not always pay. Dairying profits may be improved just by concentrating on herd health and making good silage.