Milk Fat Percentage for Lactating Dairy Cows in the United States Continues to Set Records

Milk Fat Considerations for Summer

Milk fat percentage for lactating dairy cows in the United States continues to set records. In 2022, milk fat percentage averaged 4.08% and continued the upward trend over the past decade for percentage (Figure 1) as well as total pounds of milk fat (Figure 2). This represents a significant opportunity for dairy producers. A Holstein cow producing 90 pounds of milk could generate almost $10 of income at current butterfat prices.

Heat Stress and Milk Fat Production

Unfortunately, conditions like heat stress can negatively affect milk fat production. Figure 3 shows the average milk fat concentrations for cows from states in cooler climates (South Dakota and Iowa) compared with cows from states in warmer climates (New Mexico and Florida). Although milk fat test decreases for both regions during the summer, cows in the cooler climates have a greater decrease. Those cows also have greater milk fat tests throughout the year.

Average Milk Fat Percentage

Figure 1. Average Milk Fat Percentage – USDA Data

Total Pounds of Milk Fat (Lactation)

Figure 2. Total Pounds of Milk Fat for Total Lactation – USDA Data

Diet and Milk Fat Production

Dietary factors can also affect milk fat production. Feeding diets with too much unsaturated fatty acid can result in the formation of intermediate fatty acids in the rumen through the process of biohydrogenation. Even small amounts of these intermediates can result in less production of milk fat. 

Dairy producers and nutritionists have often associated ingredients like distillers grains with increased risk of milk fat depression through this pathway. This perception arose from early experiences when feeding greater amounts of distillers grains that contained 10 – 12% fat. Fortunately, our knowledge of feeding distillers grains has greatly increased over the past decade and we better understand the risks associated with milk fat depression and how to avoid those problems. The industry has also continued to remove fat in distillers down to as low as 4 – 6% on a dry matter basis. This minimizes the amount of fat in the diet and also allows producers to feed greater amounts of distillers and capture the additional value.

Milk Fat (%) – Monthly – 2022

Figure 3.  Monthly Milk Fat Percentage for Selected States – USDA Data


In conclusion, milk fat production represents an opportunity to improve the profitability of dairy producers. However, we also know that a variety of factors can affect milk fat production. Contrary to many perceptions, distillers grains does not necessarily result in reducing the amount of milk fat. Work with your nutritionist to see how POET® Distillers Grains can get added to your formulation to reduce feed costs and improve profitability.

Producers should also recognize how excessive heat can affect milk fat production. Implementing heat mitigation strategies as well as diet adjustments during periods of heat stress can help minimize some of the effects. Additionally, focusing on management strategies like providing fresh water and adequate air flow with fans can also help to keep animals cool during excessive heat and humidity. Considering all these points will help to optimize component production and producer profitability.

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*These results are not a guarantee of nutritional value, as laboratory results are influenced by factors beyond the control of POET Bioproducts.