Dr. David Kelbert, herd nutritionist, North Florida Holsteins
What has been your biggest challenge in managing milk fat at North Florida Holsteins?
High levels of certain trans fats produced in the rumen can suppress butterfat even if the cow is otherwise healthy. Much of the fat in the North Florida Holstein ration comes from farm-grown forages like rye grass and corn silages as well as some of the corn by-products.
Since there were no herd health issues and no signs of acidosis, the butterfat depression we were experiencing suggested that we had too much of certain trans fats produced in the rumen. Cows were getting roughly two lbs. of fats per day in the diet, which began hurting our butterfat levels. We just didn’t know what to do about it without incurring higher feed costs.
In the past, if we needed to improve our butterfat levels, we would pull out high-fat feed ingredients to moderate fat levels. However, because the highest fat items in the diet are also the lowest-cost, taking that same approach this year would have been problematic due to rising feed costs.
What were your first steps in counteracting milk fat depression from high fat diets?
Research presented at the 2010 ADSA meetings (Abstract #883) showed that adding potassium to the diet can offset the effect of the trans fats that can suppress butterfat. Our first step was to evaluate the ration to ensure potassium was at the proper levels. At 1.5% of the diet our potassium levels were not exceedingly low, but they were not at the higher level of 1.8% to 2.0% of the diet, which is more consistent with this new research.
How did feeding DCAD Plus help you reach your milk fat goals?
We increased ration Dietary Cation-Anion Difference (DCAD) levels with DCAD Plus® to bring potassium levels to 1.85%. Within the week, our butterfat levels improved by almost half a point. In the following two to three weeks, butterfat levels on some of our loads approached 3.8% and 3.9%.
We also perceived an increase in milk volume, which means we experienced a feed conversion improvement where our lbs of solids-corrected milk produced per pound of dry matter consumed increased by over one point. In addition, protein components also increased.
At North Florida Holsteins, we spend about $6,000 a month on DCAD Plus, which in turn has increased our monthly income by about $50,000!
What is your advice to those looking to improve their milk fat levels?
If your herd is healthy but you have low butterfat levels, feed DCAD Plus to see if you can quickly turn this situation around. It’s a quick diagnostic tool. Increase potassium and DCAD levels with DCAD Plus, and then watch for improvements in butterfat. You’ll probably see results on the farm within seven to ten days.