Dealing with Low Milk Proteins

April 3, 2014

Currently some Irish dairy farms are dealing with low milk proteins. This will have a negative effect on profitability as most Irish dairy farmers are paid using A+B-C which pays more for higher solids milk.

However, this can also be a sign of a potentially bigger issue; Negative Energy Balance or NEB. Protein will continue to be an issue in to the near future because the Dry Matter is not as high in grass as it was at this time last year.


Insufficient energy in diet

This can be due to poor quality forage, not enough concentrate being fed and poor dry cow management (fat dry cows), restricted intakes.  If cows respond to an increase in concentrate or addition of grass to diet then they are being underfed. Underfeeding will reduce milk protein synthesis.

All cows will reach a natural low of milk protein production at 25-50 days post calving and this can be made worse if many cows fall in to that bracket at the one time which is common on compact calving spring dairy herds.


Previous breeding decisions to use high yield low solids bulls can have a big effect. Genetics decides 55% of the milk protein level.


Higher yielding cows will dilute out the milk protein percentage with higher yield combined with stage of lactation. Higher yielding cows with lower percentage levels of protein are still producing large quantities of milk protein. E.g. 30litres at 2.80% Protein = 25litres at 3.36% Protein.

Also be aware that average yield doesn’t tell the full story as some cows could have quite low yield and some quite high. E.g average of 18 and 32 litres is 25 litres. Feeding for average yield could leave some cows massively underfed.

Health Status

Cows with underlying health problems will naturally reduce their milk production and protein production – e.g. Mastitis, High SCC, IBR/BVD, Fluke, Metabolic Diseases (fatty liver, ketosis, milk fever, Displaced abomasum etc.).


  1. Assess diet of the cows, feed high quality silage to milkers leaving poorer quality to other stock
  2. Ensure the cows are receiving enough concentrates to support their milk yield
  3. Use high energy concentrates with high levels of starch. Ingredients high in starch are Maize, Barley and Wheat. Other ingredients should be of high quality.
  4. High quality grass will make a big difference to energy intake, so get cows out where possible, even for a few hours by day.
  5. Feeding space. Make sure all cows have access to feed; a reduction in feed space will reduce intakes.
  6. In parlour feeders should be measured as to their feeding rate and adjusted accordingly. Ensure dry cows don’t get too fat. Talk to nutritionist if this is a problem

Connolly’s RED MILLS have a complete range of Dairy cubes available suitable for all feeding systems. They contain high levels of starch, digestible fibre and high quality proteins to ensure your cows produce to their potential. Talk to your local representative today or call 059 9775800.

Written by Colm McEvoy, Connolly’s RED MILLS