Milk components have been high the past few months – higher than normal seasonal values – yet, most herds continue to search for additional pounds of milk. Many tend to focus on volume of milk shipped on a cow or herd basis when, in fact, it is the pounds of solids that leave the farm that ultimately pay the bills.  
    The Federal Milk Marketing Order 30 applies to most Dairy Star readers. Pay price within the FMMO 30 on milk protein has been higher than fat since last September. The volume contribution of both still comprises the majority of your milk checks. November FMMO 30 price on protein increased to $3.65 per pound and butterfat settled at $2.20 per pound. These values softened a bit in December but still illustrate the influence milk solids have on your mailbox pay price.
    Because of the value of milk components, many herds track combined fat and protein pounds shipped on a per-cow basis. Target goals are herd specific. Some high-performing herds produce more than 7 pounds combined fat and protein. It is important to calculate your number for your herd and use this as an internal benchmark for improvement.
    Energy-corrected milk is a calculation that factors in the pounds of fat and protein shipped. This measurement is more valuable than looking at milk volume alone or even fat-corrected milk. For example, a herd milking 85 pounds of milk with 4.1% butterfat and 3.3% protein would yield an energy-corrected milk value of 94.4 pounds. If milk production increased by 5 pounds per cow to 90 pounds of milk, but components dropped to 3.8% butterfat and 3% protein, this dairy would ship the exact same pounds of solids.
    Inconsistent feeding time or variation in feed distribution can impact meal patterns and promote slug feeding. Cow comfort and stocking density can negatively impact resting time, resulting in lower butterfat. Heat abatement strategies are critical to success in the summer and can promote more consistent intakes and cow comfort.  
    Nutritionally, certain levels of effective fiber are necessary to promote cud chewing and rumination. Particle size and digestibility of forage fiber impact total intake of neutral detergent fiber. Adequate forage NDF intake relates directly to rumen pH, and rumen pH is linked to milk fat. A healthy rumen environment minimizes wide fluctuations in rumen pH through balanced carbohydrate nutrition. This leads to the formation of more acetate and butyrate which are volatile fatty acids that serve as precursors to milk fat.
    Too much vegetable oil has been shown to negatively impact milk fat. As wet corn sources move further into fermentation and starch becomes more available, so does some of the corn oil within the kernel. This can also cause some challenges to milk fat as we move closer to summer.  
    Research conducted by Dr. Kevin Harvatine, Penn State University, has demonstrated the value of rumen-available methionine sources to milk fat synthesis. Rumen-inert fats high in palmitic acid have shown to have a positive impact on milk fat. Feeding elevated levels of sodium and potassium or rumen modifiers, such as yeast and direct-fed microbials, can be beneficial to improving milk fat.
    The concept of amino acid balancing is nothing new to the dairy industry. Lysine and methionine are the two most-limiting amino acids in a lactating dairy cow diet. Feed ingredients, as well as synthetic sources, can contribute lysine and methionine to the diet. However, not all sources are created equal. The bioavailability of these amino acids – and the decision of which feedstuffs provide the most economical return on investment – is a conversation to have with your nutritionist.
    The primary goal with amino acid balancing is to improve protein efficiency. As a result, amino acid balancing often yields an improvement in milk protein output. Improvement in protein efficiency also results in less nitrogen excretion which inherently has some environmental benefits. Lower nitrogen excretion also results in additional energy that can utilized for body reserves, milk production or other requirements of the cow.  
    Increasing pounds of milk is not necessarily the best way to build up your milk check. Work with your feed team and nutritionist to evaluate feed ingredients and management factors that may contribute to greater milk components. The net results can be improvement in cow health, performance and an economic return to your bottom line.
    Barry Visser is a nutritionist for Vita Plus.