Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Butterfat production is generationally accumulative

Cory Geiger, for many years editor of Hoard’s Dairyman, now Dairy analyst for an international banking system, recently released a study of the history of butterfat production in the USA.   It seems that, up to the middle 1960s, the national “blend” showed butterfat production steady around 4% of total milk production.   Then the Federal Milk order system instituted Class I milk (bottling) premiums, USDA decreed the “baby boomer” school kids would get a pint of milk per day, and nutritionists declared (erroneously) that animal fats were “bad” and vegetable oil fats were “good” (in fact, the opposite of current health research; and part of the cause for national  epidemics of obesity, heart disease and alzheimer’s).   National butterfat production dropped to 3.6% of total milk production and stayed there for forty years, far into the “multiple component pricing” transition that began in the 1980s linking butterfat and protein production as the “key” generators of dairy farm income.     Only now, based on 2022 milk marketings, has the national butterfat “herd average” regained the 4% level.    

Are you below a 4% herd average for butterfat?    Geiger’s study proves you are leaving income on the table, producing skim milk that no longer generates profit at any level of marketing.   In fact, in spite of the rise in national bf% averages the USA imported 107 million pounds of butter from our trading partners, half of that coming from Ireland…  where cows average 4.6% bf!

What is your strategy for increasing production of this most remunerative milk component?   It could improve if your feeding strategy raised the quality and quantity of forages within your ration…  however  without focusing sire genetic selection on higher butterfat% bulls, you would find progress to be quite slow.    Butterfat % is one of the top three highest heritable of all linear trait measures, at 50% heritability in most publications.    This compares to milk volume yield at 20% heritability.   The higher the heritability the more important becomes genetic selection.

Why did butterfat % yield lag 20 years behind changing sire preferences and selection indexes across the USA, in comparison to other leading dairy countries?     Part of the “fault” came from the national push to replace hay acreage with corn acreage, begun with USDA incentives in the 1970s forward for decades, followed by similar incentives for soybean production.   Cows had to “adapt” to being fed lots of corn and oilseeds, as a species originally evolved to harvest grasses and similar green forages.    Feeds that raise rumen acidity (as grain and oilseeds do) depresses butterfat (which is a product of cud chewing;   you have to have forage intake to form “cuds” of fiber needing chewing, which in turn buffer the rumen against acids from fermentation ).

Also, according to Dick Witter, retired owner and sire analyst for Taurus Service, when you look at the entire sire summary (not just the bulls pre-selected for AI marketing) there is a strong link between component production and the “round” aAa qualities, primarily 5 “Smooth” but also more dramatically when combined with 6 “Style” and a close balance between 1 “Dairy” and 4 “Strong”.   “Round” cows have more effective rumen breakdown of digestible fibers, from which butterfat is primarily produced.  Thus selection that preferred “angularity” in cows over multiple generations held back butterfat production, even when genes to support it were in the DNA.

Breed cows for what is heritable:  manage the environment to handle what isn’t

It can be confusing to keep straight what is highly heritable, what is dependent on adaptation to an environment, and what is heritable but the approach to measure it used so far is flawed.    As the typical presentation of AI bulls on websites or in catalogs follows an abbreviated “one size fits all” format dictated by Genomics, it can be harder to identify the bulls that have specific qualities you are needing in a generation where those characteristics were missed in sire selection.

Should we keep breeding cows to match an “ideal” theoretical environment, or would it make more sense to address real problems we see in individuals within the context of the environment they live in?    Should we follow indexes that are producing “generic” milk, or pay attention to trends in the dairy marketplace?

Economists tell us the secret to profitable commodity production is to be a least cost producer.    Let us help you breed for profitability instead of generic milk and throwaway cows.                           Mich Livestock Service, Inc        

No comments:

Post a Comment