Palm Kernel Extract


3 min read

PKE management and FEI What is the main driver of FEI? Other factors can affect FEI How can I manage my FEI? Investment in research

Palm Kernel Extract (PKE) is a by-product from South East Asia's palm oil industry. This feed, while initially unappetising to cows, becomes acceptable when pasture is scarce due to its decent energy and protein content. The feed's cost-effectiveness depends on its price compared to milk. The Fat Evaluation Index (FEI) indicates milk fat's suitability for various products. Your FEI is mainly influenced by the PKE amount and fat content you feed. Other factors like diet composition, lactation stage, and specific breeds can also impact it. To manage FEI, monitor your graphs, check PKE fat percentages, and adjust feeds as needed. DairyNZ supports research to aid farmers in understanding FEI guidelines.

Palm Kernel Extract (PKE) is a by-product of the palm oil industry in South East Asia.

It is a dry, gritty meal with a soapy smell and has low palatability until cows get a taste for it. However, when short of pasture, it is an acceptable feed because it:

  • contains reasonable levels of metabolisable energy (ME) (around 11 MJ ME/kg DM)
  • contains reasonable levels of protein
  • is relatively easy to introduce to cows over a range of farm systems.

The profitability of PKE is dependent on the price of PKE relative to milk price and the utilisation of PKE and pasture.

PKE management and the Fat Evaluation Index (FEI)

A Fat Evaluation Index (FEI) Grading System was introduced by Fonterra in 2018. This index was designed to indicate the suitability of the milk fat composition for processing into a variety of products.

The following information explains the FEI and how to manage PKE feeding levels so that milk is fit-for-purpose.

What is the main driver of FEI?

The main driver of FEI is the amount of PKE fed and the PKE fat content. PKE fat content can vary from about 3 – 10% with region, origin, supplier, or shipment.

What other factors can affect FEI?

There are other factors that affect the FEI which is why one farmer may be able to feed more PKE compared with another without incurring a grading. In order of impact these are:

  1. Amount of PKE that is being fed as a proportion of the total diet. For example, there will be less chance of grading if 3 kg PKE is being fed to a cow eating 18 kg in total, compared with a cow eating 15 kg.
  2. Other feeds in the diet. Recent research suggests when high levels of fodder beet (5 kg DM) and potentially other feeds high in sugar/starch are fed along with PKE, this can increase FEI levels; however, the increase is small in comparison to the increase from PKE in the diet.
  3. Poor transitioning onto crops (e.g. turnips and fodder beet) can cause a short-term increase in FEI levels
  4. Stage of lactation (late lactation), breed of cow (Jersey) and OAD milking can all cause small increases in FEI.

How can I manage my FEI?

  1. Continually monitor your FEI graph. If you start to approach a B (orange band) check how much PKE is being fed (consider weighing feed when loading) and consider what else you are feeding your cows.Consider an alternative feed (e.g. more pasture or a different supplement/PKE blend). Be aware of pasture allocation and round length, and the economics of feeding different supplements. In winter/spring, feed PKE to dry stock and allocate more pasture/silage to lactating cows (NB. Avoid high levels of PKE close to calving. PKE is high in phosphorus and can increase the risk of milk fever).In summer/autumn, dry off stock and feed PKE to dry cows and/or remove cull cows earlier leaving more pasture/alternative supplements for lactating cows
  2. Be sure to check your FEI graph when a new load of PKE is bought on farm. The fat percent of PKE batches can vary and alters FEI levels.
  3. Be aware how much PKE is being fed as a proportion of the diet. A cow eating 3 kg PKE out of a total diet of 15 kg will have a higher FEI than eating 3 kg PKE out of 18 kg. Total intake can be affected by weather, and quality of other feeds in the diet.
  4. Transition onto crops following best practice management and avoid feeding high levels of fodder beet (e.g. 5 kg DM) if PKE is also being fed.
  5. Check FEI levels when switching cows to OAD or changing other feeds in the diet, particularly, if feeds high in sugar or starch are added.

For more information on the FEI, why it was developed and the demerit system visit the Farm Source website or contact your local Farm Source Team or 24/7 Helpline 0800 65 65 68.

DairyNZ's investment in research

As a farmer-funded, industry good organization, DairyNZ is tasked with helping farmers understand and respond to any changes in the dairy industry such as new guidelines and recommendations.

DairyNZ is involved in farm systems trials investigating different management strategies for FEI compliance including Taranaki and Northland.

Last updated: Sep 2023

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