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Butterfat is the Money Maker

Karen Bohnert

May 11, 2022


Milk prices have soared in comparison to the last several years, and producers are looking at each line of the milk check to learn just what the money maker is. The takeaway is that strong component prices easily help drive that price per hundredweight up. And with soaring feed prices, producers have dialed into increasing both their butterfat and protein levels.


Isaac Salfer, assistant professor of dairy nutrition at the University of Minnesota, says that a good milk fat benchmark for a Holstein herd was previously 3.75%.

“This was backed up by historical milk market data, which saw average butterfat tests in the Upper Midwest hovering between 3.7% and 3.8% from 2000 to 2012,” he says.


Fast-forward and 2021 witnessed milk fat increase exponentially, with the average milk fat in the Upper Midwest over 4.0% for the first time ever.


“The trend is continuing into 2022 with an average bulk tank fat test of 4.25% in January, up 0.13% from last year’s January average,” Salfer says. “I fully expect that in a few years, I will be teaching my class that a 4.0% milk fat test is on the low end of what a herd should expect.”


Erick Metzger, general manager with National All-Jersey in Reynoldsburg, Ohio, says there are several reasons for the increase in milk butterfat levels in producer’s milk.


“Jersey semen sales have increased modestly,” he says. “In 2016 Jersey semen accounted for 13.1% of domestic semen sales. In 2021 it was 15.7%.”


Furthermore, Metzger says herds are selecting more for components. April’s 2022 top 100 Holstein NM$ sires average 0.15% fat, and only six bulls among the top 100 are negative for fat test.


Pandemic Shift

At the beginning of the pandemic two years ago, many milk buyers instituted quotas and base excess plans. Metzger says that virtually all the quota and base excess plans are based on milk volume.


“If producers can only market XX volume per month, they are going to pack all the components they can into their allowable volume,” he says. “If butterfat is worth $2.50/lb., increasing butterfat test by 0.1% increases the value of 1 million pounds of milk by $2,500.”


Salfer says there are four main reasons why milk fat has increased:

  1. Improved ration formulation with an emphasis on feeding rumen-protected fatty acid products and focusing on fatty acid digestibility.

  2. Improved forage quality and fiber digestibility, which allows you to feed higher fiber diets without sacrificing available energy for milk production.

  3. Improved feed and bunk management to maximize cows’ time at the feed bunk.

  4. Improved genetic selection for milk fat percentage, mainly due to the use of the Net Merit $ selection index, which puts heavy emphasis on milk fat and protein yield.

As producers review each line item of the milk check, likely they’ll see the nice perk to having strong components that add a nice addition to that per hundredweight of milk.


dairyherd.com