When it comes to maximizing protein and fat components on his 882-cow dairy, Alan Waybright prefers a simple approach.
At Piney Mar Farm in Martinsburg, Pennsylvania, Jennifer Heltzel relies heavily on rations formulated with corn silage, haylage and wheatlage to keep the components high in her herd of 135 milking cows.
And at the Miner Institute in northern New York, Heather Dann said a focus on diet and environment is the key to boost components in the 480-cow herd.
The three approaches were highlighted during a Feb. 10 session at the 2021 Pennsylvania Dairy Summit. While the approaches on each farm may vary, the goal is the same: Improve fat and protein yields to increase profitability.
On Waybright’s Mount Rock Dairy in Newville, Cumberland County, Pennsylvania, the forage, commodities and grain used in the rations are purchased from six different farms.
Three different rations are used for different groups of cows, but each one is based on corn silage with a couple of pounds of hay. A grain mixture and other feed ingredients make up the balance of the ration.
To meet amino acid requirements in his herd, Waybright augments the ration with 6 pounds of canola meal per cow each day, along with a pound each of Amino Plus and blood meal. In the summer when canola meal is cost prohibitive, Waybright switches to soybean meal.
For butterfat, Waybright said he tries to feed as much forage as possible while keeping the total mixed ration dry matter close to 48-50%. Sugar and starch are used to meet energy requirements, but Waybright said the latter can fluctuate.
“We don’t rely on starch alone,” he said. “In 2018 we probably had our best corn silage, and the starch was running as high as 36 to 38%. In 2019 we had drier conditions, and starch was at 28 to 32%.”
Although corn silage is the basis for his rations, Waybright uses a different formula for his milking cows and dry cows, which are fed a ration with more hay and some straw included.
“The herd health is doing well, and at this point we see no need to change to another dry cow ration,” he said. “Our overall production is better than expected, and a lot of it is going to a simpler ration.”
Heltzel’s herd averages 4.49% fat and 3.5% protein, while in the summer those figures dip slightly to 4.2% and 3.2%, respectively.
Still, those numbers are much higher than when Heltzel and her husband took over the farm from family in 1998.
“When we started, we were ecstatic to get 2.8% or 2.9% protein,” she said. “It’s amazing how far we’ve come.”
Heltzel strives to maximize fat and protein while keeping costs in line as well. All of the forages are planted and harvested by custom crews, which she said was one of the best decisions she and her husband ever made.
Since they don’t have to spend money on planting or harvesting equipment, Heltzel said the farm invests the savings on feeding the crops.
Manure is put on fields before the wheat is planted, and as the crop greens up a solution of urea ammonium nitrate is applied. Nitrogen is put on the fields while the corn is being planted, and another sidedress application is added later.
“It makes a difference,” Heltzel said. “We try to maximize as much as we can on our forages.”
The feed ration on the farm is mixed twice daily, and Heltzel said she strives to keep waste below 1%. That means keeping feed bunks full during the day, right up until the second milking in the evening.
“By the time the cows get moved to the holding area, there’s very little (feed) left,” she said. “The majority of our cows sleep overnight and aren’t looking for anything by the time they come out of the parlor.”
At The William H. Miner Agricultural Research Institute, Dann said the goal is to achieve 6 to 7 pounds of components, and that can be done in a number of ways, including high levels of milk production, or lower production but with higher levels of fat and protein in the milk.
Diet and management — such as increasing cow comfort and avoiding overcrowding — are keys to maximizing components, she said, but that’s not where it starts.
“The quality starts at harvest. Forage quality determines milk production,” Dann said. “We focus on getting the highest amount of degradable fiber into the bunks, along with if it’s haylage we look for quality protein, and with corn silage making sure it has a reasonable starch content.”
Feed is put in front of cows twice a day, and by keeping the offering fresh, Dann said cows will be motivated to eat. Increasing feed intake, she added, will improve milk yield.
Rest is also important when it comes to feed intake and the relationship to components. At the Miner Institute, cameras were placed in the barns to monitor what cows do at night when feed was removed for a five-hour period.
Based on the camera footage, Dann said most of the cows weren’t resting when the feed was absent. Instead, the cows stood by the bunk waiting for feed.
“A well-rested cow will eat more, and resting time and feeding time are linked,” Dann said, adding that rest takes priority over eating at any stage of lactation.
“Cows will make up for lost resting time at the expense of eating,” she said. “That’s not a good thing when trying to maximize fat and protein.”