How to Manage Milk Butterfat Levels at Grass

How to Manage Milk Butterfat Levels at Grass

As spring approaches, many dairy farms eagerly transition their cows to graze, embracing the seasonal shift to a grass-based diet. However, this change comes with a challenge – the potential for fluctuating rumen pH, which can adversely impact butterfat levels.

A common occurrence during the spring-summer period is a noticeable drop of up to 0.5% in butterfat among grazing dairy cows. Interestingly, this decline often transpires without overt signs of acidosis or lameness, yet it carries financial consequences due to penalties associated with low butterfat levels.

As cows begin to calve and are looking at being turned out to grass, milk quality, particularly butterfat can be hard to maintain. In fact, maintaining milk butterfat levels through the spring and summer grazing season is an annual challenge for dairy units across Ireland.

To address this recurring challenge, Specialist Nutrition experts advocate a holistic approach, combining effective management practices and strategic nutritional interventions. In the following sections, we delve into the critical aspects of buffer feeding, grazing considerations, and the pivotal role of rumen buffering additives in sustaining butterfat excellence.

The Significance of Buffer Feeding

To counteract the challenges associated with spring grazing, including low butterfat levels, strategic buffer feeding becomes imperative. Buffer feeding is essential in the strategic management of a dairy herd, playing a pivotal role in maintaining overall health and elevating milk quality. The significance of buffer feeding lies in its ability to counterbalance variations in the nutrient composition of available forages, ensuring a consistent and well-rounded diet for dairy cows. By providing additional nutrients during periods of nutritional imbalance, buffer feeding not only supports optimal milk production but also safeguards against milk fat depression, making it an essential component of a comprehensive dairy management strategy.

Furthermore, the key to successful buffer feeding lies not only in the choice of additives but also in their strategic integration into the overall feeding regimen. Dairy farmers are adopting innovative approaches to seamlessly incorporate buffer feeding into their daily practices, ensuring sustained butterfat levels and overall herd health.

Strategic Grazing Techniques: A Systematic Approach

Many dairy herds are impacted by milk-fat depression at turnout and through the early grazing season. Drops of 0.5% in milk fat are typical, and usually occur during the second and third grazing rotations– between three and nine weeks after turnout. An average reduction of 0.35% is often seen between April and August.

The greatest risk is seen where cows are grazing young, green leafy grass. This grass has lower structural fibre, so digests more quickly, and higher sugar content, which can create acidic rumen conditions. It is also higher in oil than more mature, later season grass. In spring and early summer, the oil content in grass is 50% richer in unsaturated fats than a typical winter ration.

The combination of the acidic conditions and the high oil content in fresh grass creates a ‘perfect storm’ in the cow’s rumen and disrupts the usual pathways used by the cow to produce milk fat. Under these conditions, dietary oil is converted to conjugated linoleic acid (CLA). This is an oil that disrupts the fat production pathways and causes a depression in milk fat. Management plays a part too in protecting butterfat.

Pre-Grazing Covers

Beyond buffer feeding, effective grazing management plays a pivotal role in the maintenance of butterfat levels. The quality of the grazing diet significantly impacts butterfat production, especially during the spring and summer months when cows are turned out to lush, green pastures.

Achieving and maintaining the appropriate pre-grazing covers during the second round of grazing is pivotal for maximising the nutritional benefits of pasture. The minimum threshold of 1600kg DM/Ha ensures that cows have access to a lush and nutrient-rich sward. Grazing at this cover promotes not only high dry matter intake but also encourages a balanced diet, rich in essential nutrients. Proper pre-grazing covers in the second round contribute to improved milk production, enhanced forage utilisation, and overall herd well-being.

Avoiding Over Fertilisation of Pasture

A critical consideration in the pursuit of optimal butterfat levels is the avoidance of over-fertilization of pasture. The risk of diminished milk fat is particularly heightened when cows graze on young, green leafy grass characterised by lower structural fibre, faster digestion, and higher sugar content. Over-fertilization exacerbates these conditions, substantially increasing the likelihood of milk fat depression.

Balanced fertilisation is key to sustainable pasture management. While fertilisers play a crucial role in enhancing grass growth and nutritional content, over-fertilisation can lead to unintended consequences. Excessive application of fertilisers may result in imbalances in the nutrient composition of the pasture, adversely affecting both forage quality and animal health. Careful and judicious fertilisation practices are essential to prevent nutrient runoff, environmental concerns, and potential negative impacts on animal nutrition.

Including Rumen Buffering

Incorporating rumen buffering and milk fat promoting additives into the diet is a proactive approach to mitigate milk fat depression during critical periods, such as grazing on young, high-oil content grass. Specialised additives, like Cargill's Equaliser Cream, serve to stabilise rumen pH and counteract the disruptive effects of high oil content in fresh grass. By addressing the underlying causes of milk fat depression, these additives contribute to maintaining optimal milk composition, supporting consistent milk income for dairy farmers, and ensuring the overall welfare of the herd. Cargill's Equaliser Cream, acknowledged as a specialist rumen buffer, has demonstrated promising results, showcasing its efficacy in preventing butterfat dips when introduced early or improving levels when administered after experiencing low milk fat.

Introducing Cargill's Equaliser Cream

Cargill's Equaliser Cream is a sophisticated solution meticulously crafted to effectively address milk fat depression. This specialised rumen buffer is strategically formulated to target the root causes of milk fat depression. While conventional buffers primarily focus on rumen pH to alleviate this issue, they often lack consistent efficacy. In contrast, Cargill's Equaliser Cream boasts essential ingredients that specifically mitigate the impact of elevated oil content in grass on milk fat production. It transcends the conventional role of a one-hit wonder; in fact, Cargill's Equaliser Cream can serve as a comprehensive replacement for both buffers and yeasts in the diet.

Diverging from attempts to navigate the problem using C16 fats, Cargill's Equaliser Cream takes a preventive stance, averting the occurrence of milk fat depression. Moreover, the rumen buffering component in the cream enhances the cow's ability to extract more energy from her diet through improved digestion, rather than relying solely on elevated energy input from C16 supplementation.

Beyond its functional benefits, the cost-effectiveness of Cargill's Equaliser Cream, as opposed to C16 fats, is a notable advantage. Free from palm sources, this cream ensures a reliable, immediate, and sustained response in maintaining milk butterfat levels. Cargill's Equaliser Cream extends its efficacy to housed herds as well, particularly beneficial in scenarios with highly digestible diets, silage with a high acid load, or when confronted with elevated oil levels from distilled co-products.


Taking proactive measures, such as incorporating rumen buffering additives and strategically adjusting diets, can help dairy farmers navigate the challenges of spring grazing and maintain optimal butterfat levels. Prevention is key, and by acting early, farmers can protect their milk yields and income. Specialist Nutrition, with its expertise in animal feed solutions, stands as a valuable partner in providing tailored advice and innovative solutions for dairy herd management.

For personalised insights on how Specialist Nutrition can help you elevate your butterfat levels, manage costs, and enhance herd health, reach out to our specialist. Contact us today and discover a range of high-quality feeds and nutritional products, backed by advice from experts who understand the challenges of your fields.