Rising cost of fats forces interest in alternative feeding strategies

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Length: 655 words; 3-4 minutes

Since this time last year, global shortages of palm oil have increased the cost of rumen-protected fats by up to 40%, adding as much as £900/month* to the feed bill for a typical 200 cow herd. And with high prices set to continue until at least the second half of the year, there’s a growing interest in alternative feeding strategies to help maintain energy intakes and milk quality.

“Global demand for all fats and oils has been rising steadily for the past 25 years, on average increasing by around 6.4 million tonnes (mt) each year,” explains KW nutritionist Dr Matt Witt. “For most of that time there’s been a matching trend for fats and oils production, but when El Nino weather patterns last year cut palm oil production in Malaysia and Indonesia by 3.9mt, it had a major impact on both availability and price.”

Worldwide rapeseed oil production also dropped by 1.3mt, creating a deficit that cut global oils and fats stocks by around 3mt despite increased output of soyabean oil (+2.6mt) and sunflower seed oil (+0.7mt). Palm oil production is predicted to rebound between 5-6mt this year, but stocks aren’t expected to fully recover until 2018 at the earliest (figure 1).

Oil stock graphs

Figure 1 – Worldwide fats and oils stocks (Source: Oilworld)


Reducing fat reliance

“The challenge is that protected fats are an important tool for boosting energy supply when feed intake and rumen output can’t meet the cow’s requirements, particularly at higher yields and when grazing low dry matter spring grass,” Dr Witt continues.

“Protected fats take up little space in the diet, so consumption and utilisation of home-grown forage can still be maximised. High C-16 protected fats are also used to boost the supply of milk fat precursors and raise butterfat production, particularly following turnout.”

“…the key…is to achieve better utilisation of the ration.”

For milk producers keen to reduce their reliance on protected fats without losing milk yield, reducing milk quality or adversely affecting fertility, the key according to Dr Witt is to achieve better utilisation of the ration.

“That typically means combining greater digestion in the rumen with maximum feed intakes,” he states.

“Sugars from liquid feeds such as Molale will improve ration palatability and drive rumen microbial activity, for example, while including live yeasts (Vistacell), slow-release rumen conditioners (Acid Buf) or slower fermenting starch feeds like caustic soda-treated wheat (KW SodaWheat) will improve rumen conditions and overall fermentation efficiency.

“Some of the novel plant extract-based supplements designed to enhance digestion and raise intakes such as OptiPartum-C are also proving to be highly effective on-farm, in some cases allowing protected fat levels to be halved without any reductions in milk yield, milk quality or fertility.”

On-farm cost savings

One farmer who’s made that change is Charles Reader, who runs the 120-cow Barnowl Jersey herd near Brackley, Northamptonshire, with his wife Francis, son Andrew and daughter-in-law Heidi.

“High milk fat production is a top priority for us as it helps set the value we get from both milk sales to the public – a new venture started earlier this year – and surplus stock sales,” Mr Reader explains. “We added a high C-16 rumen-protected fat (Butterfat Extra) to the diet 18 months ago, and that helped lift butterfats over 6% during the winter.

“But the rising cost meant that when KW’s Simon Pickard suggested using a plant extract-based supplement (OptiPartum-C) to boost rumen energy output and cut the need for protected fat, we were keen to give it a try.”

At current prices, the type of supplement used by the Readers costs around £350/t less than the protected fat it replaces. For a herd the size of Barnowl Jerseys feeding 0.3kg/cow/day of a high C-16 protected fat, the change would cut feed bills by £192/month, potentially saving more than £1,100 over the next six months.

“…to cut costs without any…effects on milk fat or protein production…”

“So far we’ve replaced half the protected fat in the ration, but in future we might be able to go even further,” Mr Reader adds. “For now, though, we’ve been able to cut costs without any detrimental effects on milk fat or protein production, and that’s got to be a good thing!”

Farm facts – Cloisters Farm, near Brackley, Northants:

  • Barnowl Jerseys, pedigree herd
  • 120 cows in milk
  • Year-round calving
  • Rear own replacements, sell surplus
  • New raw milk sales enterprise set up January 2017
  • 7,000kg/yr herd average at 5.8% BF, 4.0% Pr
  • 390-day calving index
  • 69ha (170ac), grassland only
  • Summer: grazing plus buffer TMR
  • Winter: full TMR
  • Mixed rations based on:
    • Grass silage
    • Wheat-gluten moist feed (Traffordgold)
    • High quality KW custom blend
  • Loose housed on straw yards

* Based on average yield of 33 litres/cow/day receiving 0.5kg/cow/day of rumen-protected fat.

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