meta Should Farms Be Shipping 4.5% Fat Milk? :: The Bullvine - The Dairy Information You Want To Know When You Need It

Should Farms Be Shipping 4.5% Fat Milk?

Dairy farmers, like all business owners, must continually be addressing financial viability and sustainability in both the immediate and longer term.  Revenue generation is an extremely important aspect of finances.   On dairy enterprises over 90+% of revenue comes down to the milk shipped. Today The Bullvine would like readers to think about the proportions of components in the milk they will ship off-farm in five years’ time.

Setting the Scene

A considerable number of factors come into play when planning the composition of milk and milk revenue. Some factors relate to genetics, some to feeding and some to management. Here are some with a bearing on both future genetics and revenue.

  • Fat is Becoming King – Reports from almost all dairy countries are showing high demand by consumers for butterfat. This demand is now reflected in the increased value of fat on farmer’s milk checks in some countries. This increasing trend for full-fat milk products for healthy living is predicted to continue and even to increase.
  • Excess Powder Yes protein level is important in cheese production but the move of the last almost half-century of increasing protein per cent and narrowing the percentage gap between fat and protein in cow’s milk has no doubt contributed to it taking more volume of milk to get the needed fat and thereby leaving more remaining solids to produce powder products.
  • Eating vs Drinking Milk The proportional use of milk in the US is now 75% solid and 25% fluid. In developing countries, especially in Asia and Africa where the future population growth will occur, the per cent of milk that is consumed in the solid form will be even higher. High per cent butterfat milk will be in demand everywhere.
  • Feeding the Rumen Ruminant diets are being fine-tuned for ingredients and feed preparation so that forages will form a very high per cent of the total. Feeding strategies to achieve high butterfat per cent will be common.
  • Cost of Moving, Storing and Removing Water High-fat content milk will save considerable energy and cost per unit of solids as it relates to cooling on-farm, transportation to processing, storing at processing and removal of water and disposal of whey liquids by processors. Costs saved can positively impact farm gate price.
  • Savings on Farm – High-fat cows provide the opportunity to save some on the stress of high-volume yields in the areas of cow health and reproduction. Although the genetic relationship of functional traits with % fat may not be high, every little bit will help to increase cow profit per lifetime.

These and other factors will contribute to what the composition of milk needs to be in the future.

The Ideal Milk of the Future

Currently, in North America, the average component per cent for milk leaving farms is 3.9% fat and 3.3% total protein. It should be noted that the current move to measure true protein will reduce the total protein per cent by 0.19% to 3.1% true protein. There has been a slow but gradual annual genetic increase of 0.02% fat and 0.01% total protein in the past decade. So, in five years if selection pressure on % fat and % protein remain unchanged, we can expect milk coming off the farm to be 4% fat and 3.15% true protein.

Based on the demand for butterfat and future milk uses and products, experts have estimated that in the future milk shipped from farm needs to 4.5% fat and 3.2% true protein by 2025. So, a revised strategy on sire selection will be needed higher % fat, hold % protein and continued improvement in production, functionality, feed conversion and animal health.

What About Switching Up Breeds?

In recent years the Jersey breed has seen a resurgence doubling to about 10% in the US and 5% in Canada. So, is it simply increasing Jerseys to 40% of the national herds to achieve a higher % fat? A complicating factor would be that Jerseys have in recent years been selecting for increased volume of milk at the expense of % fat. The fact is that there would need to be a movement to selecting for higher % fat in all breeds.

A scenario to reach 4.5 % fat for all milk shipped could be: 73% Holsteins at 4.25% fat; 23% Jerseys at 5.3% fat; 3.5% crossbreds at 4.5% fat; and 0.5% other breeds at 4.5% fat.  If breed percentages were to be 78% Holstein, 20% Jersey and 2% others, then Holsteins would need to average 4.30% fat.

Some will question Holsteins at 4.25% fat. It is a fact that the famous Montvic Holstein herd, dispersed over 76 years ago, had a herd over 4.1% fat and today there are many Holstein herds averaging at or over 4.0 % fat. The genes for higher % fat are there! The detour in the 1970s – 1980s to selecting against % fat and for % protein in Holsteins, in hindsight, was an error.

Not Simply Higher % Fat

There needs to be a higher % fat but not higher % protein. Since the correlation between selecting for % fat and % protein is 60-70%, using higher % fat sires will also get high % protein. Carrying on selecting for increases in both % fat and % protein would leave added surplus powder. No producer wants a future of what currently exists: low global farm gate prices – prices below the cost of production.

Which Sire Ranking Index Would Be Best?           

The following tables compare the results of analyzing the top US and Canadian proven sires for four selection programs with the overall objective to increase % fat, hold % protein and increase total genetic merit. The proven sires studied were the top twenty marketed Holsteins and top ten marketed Jerseys for the sire ranking indexes of % fat, fat yield, breed selection index and net merit ($).

Table 1 – Average Sire Proof* for US Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield      TPI        NM$      % Fat  Fat Yield      JPI      NM$
Milk 830 1761 1634 1775 -307 1462 1598 1282
Fat Yield 91 101 81 91 43 90 75 85
% Fat 0.22 0.13 0.07 0.09 0.29 0.11 -0.01 0.12
Protein Yield 46 61 62 60 10 62 61 57
% Protein 0.08 0.03 0.04 0.02 0.09 0.05 0.02 0.05
Productive Life 4.5 4.4 5.3 5.4 1.2 1.7 3.3 3.1
SCS 2.85 2.83 2.81 2.85 3.02 2.95 2.83 2.93
DPR  1.2 0.2 2.1 1.4 -1 -2.3 -1.1 -1.5
Udder Depth 1.04 0.76 1.2 0.78 0.9 0.2 1.1 1.1
RL Rear View 1.18 0.75 1.08 0.69                 na                 na              na                 na
NM$ 777 834 826 859 243 574 580 598
TPI(H) / JPI(J) 2576 2624 2696 2658 69 168 183 179

* US Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Transmitting Ability. Proofs from August 2018.

Table 2 – Average Sire Proof* For Canadian Proven Sires for Four Selection Programs

  Holstein (20x) Jersey (10x)
  (Selection For) (Selection For)
Trait     % Fat  Fat Yield        LPI          Pro$      % Fat  Fat Yield         LPI         Pro$
Milk 782 1401 1496 1807 395 738 1095 1081
Fat Yield 88 107 85 82 84 98 82 71
% Fat 0.52 0.48 0.26 0.13 0.87 0.81 0.36 0.22
Protein Yield 54 63 64 71 39 47 53 49
% Protein 0.24 0.14 0.11 0.09 0.34 0.26 0.16 0.11
HerdLife 105 103 104 106 100 98 101 102
SCS 2.75 2.89 2.76 2.69 2.96 3.03 2.9 2.83
Daus Fertility 102 103 104 103 101 100 103 104
Udder Depth             5s 0             4s             4s              1d             3d             1s 0
RL Rear View 7 4 6 3 -4 -5 0 -2
Pro$ 2148 2120 2356 2473 1157 1205 1633 1712
LPI 3082 2956 3190 3141 1803 1824 1969 1954

* Canadian Sire Proofs are expressed in Estimated Breeding Values (= 2 x ETA’s). Proofs from August 2018.

The fact is that selecting sires based on the four programs summarized in Tables 1 and 2 will not get the needed result of high %F, increased fat yield and a hold on %P. In all cases, the %P is too high or too high compared to the %F and would result in expanding the volume of protein/powder not holding it. Therefore, if following a program does not do it, then breeders will need to do it by their individual sire selections. Of course, there is the possibility that the formulae for national selection indexes could be revised to select for a widening gap between %F and %P, but that would take research and resources and, in the meantime, breeders are not preparing for what will be needed in 2025.

Bulls That Would ‘Ring the Bell’

Forward-looking breeders will need to use sires that give high % fat improvement, minimal % protein improvement and continued improvement in other important traits. There will be a very limited number of such sires available. Most sires will not widen the gap between % fat and % protein.

From a search of current top proven sires, here are five sires that give the high % fat, high-fat yield, hold % protein and that are breed average or above for other major traits.

                Brewmaster (CA EBV’s)      +0.78 %F,            +132 kgs Fat                       +0.11 %P

                Megatron (CA EBV’s)           +0.75 %F              +122 kgs Fat                       +0.17 %P

                Mookie (US ETA’s)                +0.39 %F              +106 lbs Fat                        +0.09 %P

                Mackenzie (US ETA’s)          +0.32 %F              + 96 lbs Fat                         +0.13 %P

                Rubicon (US ETA’s)               +0.26 %F              +120 lbs Fat                        +0.06 %P


The Bullvine Bottom Line

The decision on the need to widen the gap from 0.8% to 1.3% between % fat and % protein needs discussion in all markets – local and global. The sooner there an industry-wide position on what is needed in the future for milk component percentages, the sooner breeders will be able to get on with making the necessary changes in their genetic selections.




Get original “Bullvine” content sent straight to your email inbox for free.




Send this to a friend