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Pounds vs. percent: Shifting the mindset about components

Dave LaCount Published on 16 October 2015

Which would you rather have? A herd that produces 100 pounds of milk per day with 3.3 percent fat and 3 percent protein or a herd that produces 95 pounds of milk per day with 3.8 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein?

Most people pick the 100-pound herd because they assume more milk equals more money. But when you are paid on components, more milk does not always mean more money.

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In this example, the 95-pound herd produces 6.56 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day versus 6.3 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day for the 100-pound herd. That is 0.25 pounds of more fat and protein per cow per day.

While that may not seem like much, using fat and protein prices from March 2015 shows that’s an income difference of $0.45 per cow per day from fat and protein for the 95-pound herd.

Historically, as an industry we have always talked about percent of fat or protein; however, if you produce milk in a market that bases pay price on components, it’s time to shift your mindset to evaluate components based on pounds.

Doing so will provide a better barometer of performance. This concept is not as applicable to those shipping milk in primarily fluid markets.

Watch more than pounds of milk

The component content of milk varies for a variety of reasons – seasonal changes, changes in diet and subclinical acidosis, to name a few. Ingredient selection for the diet can play a major role in the amount of components shipped.

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Forage quality, fat source, amino acid balance and protein sources in the diet all affect component yield. Research has shown that diet-induced milkfat depression can result in up to a 50 percent drop in milkfat yield with little or no change in pounds of milk produced or the other milk components.

If you are only watching pounds of milk produced, you may miss the change in milkfat until it shows up on your next milk check.

Dan Wenzel, a dairy business consultant with Dairy Business Consulting in New London, Wisconsin, has been tracking his client herds’ financial performance using pounds of fat and protein produced per cow per day for five years.

It is listed on the monitoring sheet every month, right next to pounds of milk per cow. With this information, he can show that not all milk is created equal.

For example, two farms each produce 85 pounds of milk per cow per day. Farm A has 3.75 percent fat and 3.15 percent protein, for a total of 5.87 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day. Farm B has 3.6 percent fat and 3 percent protein, for a total of 5.61 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day.

Using March 2015 fat and protein prices, Farm A earns $12.60 fat and protein income per cow per day. Farm B earns $11.99 fat and protein income per cow per day.

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Both farms produce 85 pounds of milk per cow per day, but that small difference in fat and protein content adds up to a difference of $0.61 per cow per day. That’s why it is so important to include pounds of fat and protein produced in your monitoring toolbox.

A review of Wenzel’s client records shows that 83 percent of his clients’ total milk income for March 2015 comes from the value of fat and protein.

When you are paid on components, they are a better indicator of financial status of a herd than pounds of milk. Most of your milk income comes from components, so why not focus on what makes you the most money?

Aim for 6 pounds

Six pounds or more of fat and protein per cow per day should be your goal. That’s a benchmark Dr. Tom Overton from Cornell University set for elite herds a couple of years ago. Since then, more and more producers have been setting that as their benchmark and even surpassing it.

Many of the herds I work with today have achieved 6 pounds of fat and protein. Some have even climbed to 6.5 and 7 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day.

More producers are starting to understand the value of tracking components instead of just milk production. In 2012, out of all of the herds that Wenzel works with, 26 percent averaged at or above 6 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day for the year.

In 2014, that number had climbed to 39 percent of all client herds averaged at or above 6 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day for the entire year.

Even though components are important, it’s still about the profitability of your business. Your goal should be to find the optimum pounds of fat and protein for your business model, not the maximum pounds of components.

Farms can be very profitable with very different business models. The key is to understand what works for your business model and to optimize components for your specific operation.

Consider, for example, two farms from Wenzel’s client records. Farm D produces 104 pounds of milk each day with 3.63 percent fat and 3.1 percent protein, for a total of 7 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day.

Farm E produces 81 pounds of milk each day with 3.5 percent fat and 3.03 percent protein, for a total of 5.35 pounds of fat and protein per cow per day. So Farm D looks much more profitable, right?

In reality, both farms are highly profitable. Each uses a different business model to achieve its goals. Farm D had a net worth gain of $2,826 per cow in 2014. Farm E had a net worth gain of $2,688 per cow in 2014. Farm E has a lower labor cost, lower feed cost, less debt and does not use rBST, but its increase in net worth per cow was nearly the same.

By comparison, the average increase in net worth per cow for all herds Wenzel worked with in 2014 was $1,300 per cow. Having high performance does not guarantee more profit.

In this example, each farm optimized its fat and protein pounds per cow per day according to its own business model, expense efficiency and debt load. But when things are equal, then yes, the more pounds of fat and protein do mean more revenue.

High milk components and high milk production are not mutually exclusive. They can be achieved at the same time. Work with your nutritionist to develop a nutrition strategy that can help you achieve your goals and join the 6-pound club.  PD

Dave LaCount has a doctorate in animal sciences from the University of Illinois and is employed by Purina as a dairy technical service specialist based in Wisconsin.

References omitted due to space but are available upon request. Click here to email an editor.

Dave LaCount
  • Dave LaCount

  • Dairy Nutritionist
  • Purina Animal Nutrition
  • Email Dave LaCount

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