My family likes butter. When I order a 36-pound case of butter from the creamery, my wife distributes it among our four married children and also some to my 94-year-old mother. With grandkids who never stop eating and pies for grandpa Dave, we go through a lot of butter. Sometimes I have to hide a pound in my shop fridge so I can have my fried egg on buttered toast. Deb is the worst. She puts butter on everything.
    With current dairy economics, I have been looking at everything to make or save an extra dollar. It always seems to start by looking at purchased feed cost, because those costs are out of pocket costs and are large numbers. We have fed 3-5 pounds of whole cottonseed since the 1990s, because we could always see a 4- to 7-pound milk response, and it was a good source of energy, protein and fiber. This past August we said no more cottonseed, because we did not want the bill. Little did we realize what was going to happen next with our newly balanced ration without cottonseed.
     Yes, we lost 5 pounds of milk; however, our butterfat percentage jumped almost immediately from 3.7 to 4.1 percent. In addition, our protein percentage jumped a 10th or two, and our SCC dropped nicely. We all know we cannot take something out of a feed ration without replacing it with some other source of dry matter, so our nutritionist, Jason Prins, used more home grown feed sources like haylage and corn silage along with balancing amino acids in our base mix.
    Our feed cost to produce 100 pounds of fat and protein corrected milk went from $6.52 per hundredweight to $6.41. In a one-month period, that is a $4,000 savings for us. That is a good start with feed cost savings, but a little history on the milk check side is where it really gets interesting.
    We have always pushed the cows for top milk production, because that is what paid the bills. I needed some proof to back up why we believed that. So, I made a trip into the deep dark basement of my wife’s downtown clothing store building where we store our boxes of yearly records. I pulled out our milk check stub from September 2008, exactly 10 years before the current stub I was comparing it to.
    Ten years ago, the co-op paid $1.82 per pound of butterfat and $3.26 per pound of protein. Today, the co-op is paying $2.30 per pound of butterfat and $2.03 per pound of protein. Because protein percentage in Holsteins does not vary much no matter how much they produce, it made a lot of sense before to push cows for top milk production when protein prices were high.
    This paragraph is for everyone if you milk 10 or 2,000 cows.
    I compared two cows, one named Topmilk and one named Hifat. Topmilk produces 80 pounds a day of 3.6 percent butterfat and 2.9 percent protein. Hifat produces 75 pounds a day of 4.1 percent butterfat and 3.1 percent protein. When I apply current prices paid for butterfat, protein and other solids to each cow, Topmilk is generating $11.90 per day, and Hifat is generating $12.38 a day. That is a 48 cent per cow per day advantage for Hifat, and 45 cents of that is from the butterfat. Even on a 100-cow herd, that is a positive $1,440 a month.
    Two more crazy reasons to increase butterfat even if milk production suffers a little are found in the milk check. Our co-op put into place true cost of hauling, so the more pounds of milk shipped the higher the hauling bill is. So, a little less milk with a lot higher butterfat content is a true money saver. National and state dairy promotion deduction dollars are also based on hundred weights, so high component milk saves dollars there, too. When I add all the benefits up for our herd, $4,000 a month for feed savings, $1,362 hauling savings, $372 promotions savings, an additional $24,552 butterfat premium and an additional $1,860 SCC premium, l come up with $30,784 a month. Will these dollars put us in the black with these low prices? Probably not, but it can slow down the losses.
    We are trying to push the cows a little more and have reached 77-78 pounds while maintaining components. We might not get much more as we are milking 48 percent first-calf heifers since our expansion. Ideally, we could get 90 pounds with high components, too. In a perfect world, we could get today’s butterfat prices combined with the protein prices from 10 years ago. That would equate to a mailbox price of $20.54 per hundredweight. Hopefully soon the world will once again need our dairy proteins. In the meantime, the world and our family are enjoying butter.
    Vander Kooi operates a 1,800-cow, 4,500 acre farm with his son, Joe, and daughter-in-law, Rita, near Worthington, Minn. Send him feedback at Follow him on Instagram, @davevanderkooi.