It's been a very good year so far for milk protein percentage. Figures of 3.4pc were common for May, and many of you had figures of over 3.5pc. And it didn't stop there. Figures of over 3.6pc were achieved on Irish farms for the month of May.
A number of our dairy processors increased protein percentages, on average by 0.07pc for 2014. This was a seriously big increase as I have noticed over the years that milk protein percentage increases by, on average, only 0.02pc. So, over a five-year period, milk protein percentage lifts by 0.1pc. In other words, it moves from 3.3pc to 3.4pc.
Will it keep rising and what has been the reason for the sudden surge? Yes, is the answer to the first question, but only as long as we keep making the right breeding decisions. The industry wants more kilogrammes of protein in milk .
It is also prepared to pay twice as much for a kilogramme of protein compared to a kilogramme of fat. This level of clarity gives confidence to the dairy farmer and he/she will implement the plan by making the breeding right decisions.
The right breeding decisions involve using a panel of AI bulls with, at least 14kgs of protein and +0.15pc for milk protein. If this plan is being implemented, I know that the calves born next spring are going to be genetically superior to the calves born in 2013 and 2014 and definitely superior to the herd average.
ICBF have played a massive role in guiding us to this point. The one page HerdPlus report for your herd is an invaluable piece of innovation in the dairy industry. It allows us to accurately predict milk protein percentage in the herd as well as in the young stock.
For instance, if your HerdPlus report shows that the overall average figure for milk protein percentage is 0.07, then the genetic potential for this herd of cows is 3.58pc. The key here is the base cow in the ICBF database. This cow has an average protein percentage of 3.3. Tom O'Dwyer, current Head of the Dairy Knowledge Transfer Department in Teagasc, observed that if you multiply the 0.07 by a factor of four, and add this to the figure of 3.30 for the base cow, then you can accurately predict the genetic potential for milk protein in the herd of cows you are dealing with. So, doing the maths, multiplying 0.07 X 4, equals 0.28 and adding this to 3.3, gives you the target figure of 3.58pc.
This figure is the genetic potential for the herd. It is up to you, the manager, to provide the cows with the platform to allow them express this genetic potential.
I meet very few farmers that manage cows in such a way that they reach their genetic potential for milk protein percentage. But they are out there. They are usually excellent grassland managers and have excellent six week calving rates. Usually the herd comes in at 0.02 to 0.03pc under their potential. However, this is still a very good performance.
We are now into the second week of June and it can be a very difficult month to manage the grass plant. This is down to the fact that the grass plant is now in the reproductive phase. This means that if given the opportunity, it will produce a seed head.
Your job from now until about August 10 is to manage the plant so that it doesn't get near producing a seed head. Rotation length becomes all important now, because any sward left grow beyond 22/23 days will contain an amount of stem. It is this stem which will elongate and produce a seed head.
While rotation length is important in controlling grass quality, pre grazing yield should not go beyond 1400 -1500kg of grass dry matter.
Otherwise, the quality of the diet will suffer. Milk protein percentage declines first when grass quality suffers. It is very sensitive to grass quality.
Indeed, June can be one of the worst months of the year for milk protein percentage, purely because cows are asked to graze swards that contain too much stem.
Protein percentage in June usually mirrors the overall yearly figure, so if your average protein for the year is 3.6pc, then the June figure needs to be at or above this figure.
Is producing all this protein hard on the cow's metabolism? No is the answer. It requires a lot more from the cow's metabolism to produce a kilogramme of actual milk.
Kilogrammes of fat come next in the demand stakes to be followed by kilogrammes of protein.
This emphasis on protein yields in our dairy herd will result in cows that are durable, will go in calf easier, and calve earlier in the spring.
John Donworth is Teagasc regional manager for Limerick and Kerry