May 31, 2018

Colored Cows Are Adding Fat To The Milk Supply

 |  By: Mike Opperman

While the U.S. milking herd is still predominantly black and white, there’s more colored cows adding high component milk to the nation’s milk supply.

Based on data from the Dairy Herd Improvement Association (DHIA), Holsteins are still the breed of choice, but the number of non-Holstein cows on U.S. dairy farms continues to grow. USDA data from 2014 shows that herds are becoming more mixed as well. While less than 8% of the cow herd are Jerseys, the breed shows up on nearly 30% of dairy operations. 

Crossbreeding has become more popular as well as producers look to take advantage of the heterosis effect of more components, greater fertility and better feed efficiency.  

non-Holstein share










All of this additional color is having an effect on the component levels found in the U.S. milk supply. More data from INTL FCStone shows that the fat content in the U.S. milk supply for the month of April has grown steadily since about 2014. For example, even though April U.S. milk production only grew 0.6%, the fat content in milk helped drive up U.S. milk solids production by 1.7%. That number is expected to go even higher when protein values are added in. “This is probably why no one is yelling about the lack of milk out there with only 0.6% growth,” says Nate Donnay with INTL FCStone. “It looks pretty clear that a significant shift in the color of the cows is helping drive the trend in milk components.”

fat content










While the breed of the animal affects component production, it’s only one part of the three legged stool that makes up the trend toward higher fat content. Producers are getting better at breeding and feeding cows for higher component production. Donnay looked at the impact management, especially nutrition, has had on the increase in component production. “The increasing solids content is being driven pretty evenly by the breeds and feeding/management, but feeding/management has contributed more to growth.”

Margins have an impact on component levels as producers change feed ingredients based on available cash flow.

gain areas










“That means we could see component growth slow considerably if we get into another period of low margins,” Donnay says. “But as long as the trend toward more Jersey and cross-bred cows continues it might be hard to actually push components below year-ago levels.”

It will be interesting to see what will happen over the summer months when typically hotter weather usually drops milk components. Real price growth could happen if a drop in components is married with a continued fall-off in production, especially if demand remains strong. Donnay says to get an accurate picture of production growth for both fluid milk and components, add at least 0.5% and as much as 1.5% to get the real amount of growth in the milk supply.