Let’s Talk Fat and Protein

Greetings from spring in Minnesota. It’s slightly breezy and probably hit about 45 degrees here this afternoon with some April showers in the early evening.

It’s also one of the first days that has really felt like spring. That meant finding a few hours between farm stuff for cleaning out rain gutters and starting the endless chore of cleaning up our yard, picking up fallen branches, etc. Okay, on with the post for today… “Fat and Protein”

Even though I’m a runner, I’m not really a nutrition expert, so I don’t mean fat and protein in my own diet. I’m actually talking about milk! (My husband and I were discussing the current fat and protein levels our cows were giving this morning, which is where this whole post originates. I know you’re all jealous of such a riveting conversation. 🙂 )

The fat and protein content in our cow’s milk is something we monitor everyday on our farm. Before I talk about why this is important, I’ll give you some background.

First – what is milk made up of? This handy little graph provides the basics:

However, all cow’s milk doesn’t contain these exact percentages. The amount of fat and protein (or components) in milk varies based on the breed of cow giving the milk. It also depends on the cow’s diet.

The breed of a cow is probably the largest determining factor of the components her milk will contain. The Jersey breed (small, brown, and deer-looking) and Guernsey breed (light brown and white) naturally have the most fat and protein. Below the milk composition differences are summarized. You’ll notice lactose (milk sugar) is pretty similar across all breeds.

Source: University of Illinois

From the graph, you can tell Holsteins (black and white cows) actually have the lowest fat and protein content. On average they do give more milk than any other breed, but it’s less rich. If you want to read more and see pictures of these dairy breeds, have a look at this document from milkcow.org

Aside from breed, the feed that makes up a cow’s diet also greatly influences the composition of her milk. At our dairy farm, we work with a specialized cow nutritionist to make sure we’re feeding a balanced ration and giving our cows the best nutrition we can.

I posted about our cow nutritionist a while back if you want the full scoop. Feeding our cows a good diet is number one in importance because it keeps them happy and healthy.

Everyday we can easily check our milk processor’s website to see what the fat and protein content of our latest load of milk was. We need to note if it’s significantly lower than normal for our herd. If so, we may need to work with our nutritionist to make adjustments to the cows’ diet.

Dairy farms also get paid for our milk based on fat and protein, so it’s important for the long-term success and profitability of our farm to pay attention and manage these levels.

Remember from the graph above that milk is mostly water? While the water is important for fluid milk, it’s the fat and protein that determine how much butter, cheese, yogurt, etc the milk will produce. And that’s why milk with more components is worth more to the processor.

Running Tales

It was a step back week for my marathon training, and I had a long run of 10 miles planned. Somehow I just didn’t get to it on Saturday, so I knew I needed to do it early today to ensure it happened.

It was pretty uneventful as long runs go. 10.21 miles @ 10:05 pace. I sometimes feel like the nicest part of early morning runs comes once I’m done, and today that held true. 🙂 I took off my running shoes well before 8:00 a.m. and knew my run was already complete for the day. Always a good feeling.

I still do plan to recap my March training and mileage, but I haven’t officially added everything up yet. I do know I was well over 100 miles for March, so yay for a new monthly PDR!

Any milk questions for me?

 If you’re also preparing for a spring race, how are things going so far?

2 weeks since Wellington went missing

About Lisa

Hi, I'm Lisa. Dairy farmer's wife and Minnesotan to the core, I write about rural farm life, running down country roads, and the food, faith, and family that bind everything together. Follow along on my journey.
This entry was posted in Agriculture ( in general), Cows, Running and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Let’s Talk Fat and Protein

  1. I love early morning runs! In the summer my husband and I try to wake up really early on weekends (like 5AM) and head out for long runs/bike rides. Love having the rest of the day to do whatever!

  2. lifeisbeachykeen says:

    It always amazes me how much work goes into a dairy farm. I never really think about it until you post about it and them i’m just in awe. So much to think about!!

    It is an awesome feeling to have a long run done so early in the morning! (I haven’t done a long run since my half, hopefully this coming Saturday.)

    Ugh. I hope you and J are doing okay w/ Welle still missing.

  3. runblondie26 says:

    Fascinating. Aren’t Holstein cows the most common breed for dairy though? Is there a reason those are favored when the fat/protein of thier milk is the least of the breeds?

    • Lisa says:

      Yup, Holstein are by far the most common, mainly because they do produce the most milk. (So even though it’s got less fat and protein percentage-wise, if you get enough milk you still have more fat and protein overall.) On our farm we’ve got Holsteins, but we’ve also got some crossbred cows that are Jersey, Brown Swiss, and some other less common breeds.

  4. lauren says:

    interesting facts! My husband grew up on his grandfather’s dairy farm & helped out until his grandfather ‘retired’ & sold the cows. It’s an interesting & BUSY career!

    Love when long runs are finished bright & early! I’m running a half the first weekend in June, it’s a killer race (HILLS!), but am running with a friend, so should be fun!

  5. Heidi Nicole says:

    Interesting. I feel like such an un-educated farm girl! All of this information makes me wish that my dad took farming more seriously. Sure, its his way of life and career, but he doesn’t take it nearly as seriously as your farm. He never tracked things as well as you do or anything like that. Granted, I haven’t been on the farm in years so I don’t know a ton.

    Basically, all of your farm talk makes me miss the imaginary “hobby” farm I plan on having some time in the future (The Husband says NO!).

    Getting a run out of the way early in the morning makes the day so much better. I lazed around on Sunday and didn’t head out for my run until 1pm. Sure, lazing around was great but I had that long run looming over me until I finally got outside! Things are back on track with my training and I am pumped! 🙂

  6. i had no idea that different breeds had different compositions. i mean, in hindsight it makes sense but i didn’t know that! i also had no idea how much water was in milk. definitely makes me feel better for hydrating with it all the time 🙂

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