Feeding for milk quality

It is agreed by everyone that the margin in milk production currently is small at best given the current base prices on offer, however this base price cannot be changed at farm level. Bonuses achieved for milk butterfat, protein and somatic cell count (SCC) levels however can be influenced at farm level and will have a significant impact on the final farm gate milk price received.

Traditionally milk quality levels, namely butterfat and protein percentages drop at this time of the year and the current milk intake to Dale Farm shows this season follows the usual pattern. To a large extent, this is due to a dilution effect, given that large numbers of cows are now coming into full milk on many dairy farms across Northern Ireland. But can milk solids it be improved on your farm?

Breeding will obviously have a strong influence on a cow’s ability to produce milk solids and you should discuss with your breeding advisor how best to improve your herd genetics for this, however the impact of any change here will take several years. Changes to herd nutrition though can reap benefits straight away and now is a very appropriate time of the year for milk producers to address this issue before cows are turned out to grass.

Apart from the obvious financial benefits of improving milk quality it can also be an indicator of metabolic disorders impacting on cows. For example, if the butterfat to protein ratio is above 1.3:1.0 in freshly calved cows, it could be an indicator of ketosis, suggesting an energy deficit. Levels of below 1.1:1.0 could be an early indicator of acidosis, suggesting that more structural fibre is required within the diet for effective rumen function.

What are the key dietary factors that can have a major impact on milk quality?

Forage Intakes

Farmers should be targeting a minimum value of 11 kilos of forage dry matter intake (DMI) per cow per day. There are numerous ways to ensure intakes of forage are maximised on farms and to get advice on identifying opportunities specifically on your farm contact your local United Feeds Adviser but some of these will include –

  • Minimum of 60cm per cow feed space
  • Supply enough forage for 5% refusal
  • Keep feed fresh and push up regularly
  • Always have feed available
  • Minimise time away from feed eg. Milking time
  • 200 lux of light for 16 hours/day in the shed
  • Good pre-calver management
  • Access to fresh clean water always

Fibre Digestion

A natural follow-on from this good forage intake is ensuring that cows make optimal use of those forages consumed.  Fibre digestion is critically important in this regard and one way of improving it is to include AmafermTM in the concentrates fed to cows. AmafermTM is a unique feed additive and the only one registered as a fibre digestion enhancer in the EU for inclusion in dairy cow diets, supported by more than 100 peer-reviewed studies.

Recent trials have confirmed that the inclusion of AmafermTM in a range of silage-based diets will boost forage digestibility by 30%, delivering more microbial protein and energy to the animal. This significant figure reflects the potential of this feed additive to make a real difference when it comes to maximising milk output from forage. 

Stable Rumen pH

Yea-Sacc® is another natural feed additive that helps boost milk performance and it is widely used in United Feeds diets. Yea-Sacc® is a yeast culture based on Saccharomyces cerevisiae strain 1026, a strain specifically selected for its influence on animal performance and is globally recognised for its ability to reduce fluctuation in pH and keep rumen microbes steadily active, which in turn speeds up feed digestion and rumen turnover. Optimum rumen function provides the platform to maximise feed intake and utilisation. Yea-Sacc® stimulates the bacteria responsible for both fibre digestion and acid neutralisation. It achieves an elevation in rumen pH leading to a more efficient and total digestion of both feed and forage whilst playing a critical role in helping to prevent acidosis. Cows with clinical or indeed sub-clinical acidosis will have a lower than normal milk butterfat to protein ratio due to changes in rumen fermentation.

Protected Fats

Feeding protected fats will also act to boost milk quality. Bergafat® is a case in point. This C16 protected fatty acid acts to increase cow energy intakes which helps to increase butterfat levels in milk while, at the same time, having no detrimental impact on protein levels or yield. Bergafat® is included in all “Cream Maker Technology” based rations from United Feeds and this range of products is still market leading for its performance on farm.

Energy dense diets

Increasing milk protein significantly improves the value of milk.  As well as maximising dry matter intakes, improving the overall energy density of the diet can significantly improve levels of milk protein. In particular, increasing levels of fermentable energy by feeding adequate levels of starch in the diet can help to achieve this. The introduction of complementary forages such as maize silage and whole crop can help to achieve this by improving dry matter intakes and increasing the levels of starch in the diet. Amino acid balancing has also been proven to drive milk protein synthesis when formulated correctly into the diet.

Trace Minerals

When trace minerals are made available in the correct quantities and – more importantly – the correct form, the cow will be well placed to maintain a high health status while meeting all her production and fertility targets in full.

Trace minerals, such as copper, zinc, manganese and selenium play a crucial role in boosting a cow’s immune system. This, in turn, improves her ability to combat disease: SCC levels will also be reduced. United Feeds’ HerdCare mineral package is unique in Northern Ireland providing all these crucially important trace elements in BIOPLEX® or SELPLEX® form. As a result, they are absorbed more efficiently by the cow than is the case with inorganic minerals and are more available at all the relevant target tissues. – see separate editorial “Mineral needs in modern dairy diets” on the benefits of this.


Improving milk quality on many farms can be done by implementing some of the few factors listed above but challenges and opportunities are specific to individual farm situations. United Feeds team of trained nutritional advisers are available and keen to work with herds across the province to improve performance through their highly respected bespoke nutritional solutions.

For further information contact your local United Feeds Representative or call 028 9075 9000

Latest News & Events