Since this time last year, global shortages of palm oil have increased the cost of rumen-protected fats by up to 40 per cent, adding as much as £900 per month to the feed bill for a typical 200-cow herd,.
KW nutritionist Dr Matt Witt says: "Global demand for all fats and oils has been rising steadily for the past 25 years.
“For most of that time there has 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 3.9 million tonnes, 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 about 3mt.
"The challenge is that protected fats are an important tool for boosting energy supply when feed intake and rumen output cannot meet the cow’s requirements, particularly at higher yields and when grazing low dry matter spring grass.
“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."
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.
He says: “That means combining greater digestion in the rumen with maximum feed intakes.
“Sugars from liquid feeds will improve ration palatability and drive rumen microbial activity. Including live yeasts, slow-release rumen conditioners or slower fermenting starch feeds like caustic soda-treated wheat will improve rumen conditions and overall fermentation efficiency.
“Some of the novel plant extract-based supplements designed to enhance digestion and raise intakes 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."