Butterfat incentive prompts warning

Taken from The Weekly Times

Changing a farming system to focus more on the production of butterfat still requires a close eye on protein, according to a ruminant feed specialist.

Milk processor Lion Dairy & Drinks announced last week it would pay equally for butterfat and protein in southeast Queensland and NSW from next season. It would provide its suppliers with workshops for nutrition support in the lead-up to the change.

Lion agricultural procurement director Murray Jeffrey said the change would bring the ratio from 1.5:1 down to 1:1.

The move would encourage the production of butterfat, a milk component it could use or sell — unlike protein — in the market milk regions.

Ian Lean, managing director of dairy farm consultancy Sicbus, said increasing butterfat production required a number of changes to a cow’s diet.

“(We need to) ensure adequate and effective fibre. That is, ensure that cows are chewing their cuds and dung is not unformed and sloppy,” Professor Lean said.

“Consider using grains that are less highly fermentable than wheat.

“Buffer with sodium bicarbonate or calcified seaweed and use magnesium oxide.

“There are a number of feed additives that influence butterfat and these should be discussed with a nutrition professional to determine the optimal use.”

Prof Lean said the risks of cows consuming a diet directed towards more butterfat production included lowering the energy density of the diet and overfeeding fat.

Careful attention had to be paid to protein when fat in the diet was increased, he said.

“It should be more profitable to chase fat, but I would be very careful to try to keep protein up,” he said.

“Increased protein in the milk of high producing cows is a good indicator for health and fertility.”

Queensland Dairyfarmers’ Organisation vice-president Matt Trace said it was difficult for farmers to respond to a change in payment system during a drought.

“Any changes to the make- up of feed or to the make-up of the dairy herd are expensive and often unprofitable in the short term,” Mr Trace said.

“Even if we had significant rain in the next six months so that northern NSW and Queensland were no longer drought-declared, it will still take about 12 to 18 months to get back on track.”

NSW lobby group Dairy Connect chief executive Shaughn Morgan said further emphasis on butterfat production provided farmers an opportunity to receive higher farmgate milk prices as processors were able to value add their product.