Posted by Richard Shepardson, M.S. on Feb 2, 2022 3:43:18 PM




The milk and component price forecasts in many milk markets looks strong through much of 2022 but this is being met with rising feed costs, too. When prices are high, nutritionists and dairy managers should look closely at the return on investment (ROI) on these products. The question of how to analyze the value of bypass fats is often asked. It is typically much more complicated than “we spent X cents per cow per day and made Y cents in production value”. This article will look at means of evaluating supplemental bypass fat products in lactating dairy rations.  


What types of fat are on the market? 

There are several supplemental fat products on the market for lactating dairy cattle. Three of the biggest are high-palm fats, calcium salts of palm fatty acid distillate (PFAD), and blended fat products (such as Energy Booster 100™). Briefly, high palm fats are typically ≥80% C16:0 (palmitic acid) and have been shown to have positive effects on milk fat concentration and yield, but data on milk yield and DMI is inconsistent. Additionally, high-palm products may exacerbate body condition loss in early lactation which can have negative impacts on reproduction and overall health. Calcium salts of PFAD are a blend of mostly palmitic and oleic (C18:1c9) fatty acids. In a recent meta-analysis by dos Santos Neto et al. (2021), calcium salts were shown to improve milk yield but had negative impacts on dry matter intake. Finally, fatty acid blends of mostly palmitic and stearic acid (C18:0) are also common. These products have been shown to increase energy intake and milk and component yield without decreasing dry matter intake. The C18 fatty acids can also help support body condition and energy balance in early lactation.  


Evaluating Fat Supplements with High Feed Costs 

One of the first considerations when evaluating fat is asking why you are currently feeding a specific product (or products), or what result you are hoping to see when adding a bypass fat to a ration. Research with fat feeding continues to learn more about the roles of individual fatty acids and nutrition consultants can begin to dial in different products for different situations. For example, farms that are attempting to increase energy density of a TMR to improve milk yield may be in a different situation than farms that want to push for components without trying to make more milk. If a dairy is struggling to keep body condition on fresh and early lactation cows, adding a product that has a blend of C16 and C18 fatty acids could prove useful.  

Depending on the market and why a dairy or nutrition consultant has decided to introduce fat into a herd, the evaluation of a fat supplement could be as simple as “we spent X number of cents on this product and we need to see Y cents of milk plus component value to break even”. This quickly becomes more complicated as some farms are in a fluid market and therefore feeding specifically for butterfat or protein (such as with amino acids) may not be the best strategy. Other farms may be in a situation where milk volume caps are in place, and they are not in a position to make more milk and have to focus on component percentages. PPD’s also impact the milk check and should be considered. Finally, value must be placed on measurements such as body condition, reproduction, and days in milk (DIM).  

Reproductive success on a dairy can be one key to profitability. Feeding some fatty acid blends, such as EB100™, for maintaining body weight in early lactation cows, may have value that does not directly reflect in the milk check. Getting cows back to positive energy balance and minimizing body condition loss improves days to conception and first service conception rate. If cows in early lactation struggle with body condition and the farm is not meeting their goals for reproduction, feeding a high-palm product alone may exacerbate these issues. Although these cows may be producing large amounts of butterfat, it is likely going to make it more difficult to successfully get these animals pregnant on time.  

Many farms have been consistently feeding a bypass fat source for a long time, and another question to consider would be how to evaluate a product (or products) that are already in the ration. Given that every farm is unique in its feeding strategies, forage quality, DIM, milk production level, grouping strategies, and many other variables, it is difficult to predict just how much milk or components currently being produced can be contributed to bypass fat. Nutritionists and farm managers can consider pulling fat out of the ration, but this should be done gradually and on a predictable schedule so the change(s) can be evaluated. It is important to keep in mind that body condition score and reproduction take much longer to change than milk production parameters. If a farm is feeding a product to help keep body condition on early lactation cows, it may take 30-90 days to see recognizable amounts of change in these animals and will take just as long to get cows back to where they were. It is commonly accepted that for every extra pound of milk at peak, cows are expected to produce an additional ~200 lbs of milk over the course of their lactation. If cows begin to peak 2.5 pounds lower than before because fat was pulled out of the ration, it will not only cause cows to lose ~500 lbs of “extra” milk, but it is something that will take a long time to recover from.  


Energy Options Other than Bypass Fat 

There are many options for getting energy into lactating dairy cattle before considering a bypass fat. Making the most of forages, such as corn silage, haylage, and alfalfa, is a great place to start. Having good, fermentable fiber will help with energy balance, rumen health, and push milk fat production. Starch and sugars are also great energy sources but having an excessive amount of rapidly fermentable carbohydrates can lead to acidosis and milk fat depression. Fat from sources such as oilseeds (i.e. cottonseed and roasted soybeans) can be a great option as these also bring some fiber and protein with them. One thing to be mindful of is that the fat from oilseeds and other ingredients in the basal ration are mostly unsaturated fatty acids. Having a high rumen unsaturated fatty acid load (RUFAL) can also lead to low milk fat, so this number should be kept at a moderate level as best as possible. Aspects of management such as having good metrics on the herd, delivering fresh feed and pushing up feed multiple times per day, having a well-mixed TMR, and enough bunk and water space are also extremely important in making sure cows are getting the most out of the base diet before bypass fat is included.  



Milk price forecasts appear strong for much of 2022, but the general cost of feed continues to rise There are many ways to evaluate the ROI on bypass fat options and farms should consider their current targets for the herd, their goals for feeding fat, and what type of milk market they are in. There are many options for bypass fat on the market and there may be more than one product that could be useful in the herd. Finally, before putting in a bypass fat, herd managers and nutrition consultants should consider additional nutrition and management opportunities to increase nutrient intake, improve rumen health, and dial in reproductive success.