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Find cost savings with alternative feed ingredients

Alltech Published on 30 August 2011

There are many issues to blame for the sky-high grain and protein prices: weather conditions, economic issues, global grain demands and more.

Unfortunately, all of these issues are well beyond the reach of dairy farmers to keep their businesses thriving.



How long will high grain prices last? There is no way to tell, but in the meantime animals still need to be fed and farms need to stay in business.

There is an old Wall Street adage that says, “Markets can remain irrational longer than you can remain solvent.”

Ruminants have always been valued for their ability to transform fibrous plant materials and byproducts into high-quality milk and meat.

Unfortunately, there is an inherent inefficiency in the rumen’s utilization of dietary protein. For the rumen to function at peak efficiency, it requires a constant supply of non-protein nitrogen (NPN), a stable pH and good digestion.

If these conditions are not met, the rumen will not function efficiently with regards to dietary protein utilization.


How can we solve this dilemma?
Protein is one of the most expensive nutrients to supplement in the diet. While nutritionists are usually concerned about the effect protein sources have on ration cost, there is a growing appreciation of the cost of inefficient usage.

When a cow is supplied with more protein than it needs, the excess protein is transformed into urea for excretion and the excess protein is wasted.

Moreover, excretion of urea is energy-dependent, thereby reducing the amount of energy available for productive purposes.

More efficient usage of protein results in less nitrogen excreted in manure for every pound of milk produced.

By feeding cows less total protein along with a non-protein nitrogen (NPN) product, the rumen’s efficiency increases dramatically.

A cow with an efficient rumen can capture more nitrogen as microbial protein and better provide for its amino acid requirements.


This allows the cow to be able to digest more fibrous plant materials – the cheapest ingredient on your farm.

Although urea is an inexpensive NPN source commonly used in ruminant diets, it is often released too rapidly in the rumen.

This rapid release makes the urea less effective and can cause ammonia toxicity. Urea feeding rates for lactating cows exceeding 100 grams per head per day are generally considered risky.

In theory, high amounts of urea could be used for microbial protein production so long as the nitrogen release rates were matched to usage by the rumen.

In order for the rumen to function at its maximum efficiency, it needs a constant, steady supply of NPN that is timed well with the energy release from the fibre breakdown in the rumen.

“Steady nitrogen release is important for the rumen because it runs out of nitrogen before the fibre has been completely broken down; nitrogen cannot be stored and will be utilized immediately with the remainder being excreted,” says Randy Cragoe with Cragoe Consulting.

Traditionally, this has been achieved by feeding plant protein sources such as soybean meal, a feed ingredient that has succumbed to much of this price volatility.

Currently there are very few products on the market that offer producers the luxury of combining the production-enhancing abilities of a sustained release NPN source with the peace of mind of a stable-priced, cost-effective and low-inclusion product.

“Sustaining the release of nitrogen in the rumen results in maximum rumen microbial production, which helps to drive milk production and creates rumen harmony,” says Amanda Gehman, an Alltech field research scientist and coordinator.

“Any time you can increase production efficiency while keeping the interests of our cost-conscious producers in mind, that is something that truly warrants a closer inspection,” according to Matt Einarson, director of nutrition with East-Man Feeds in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

While there are a variety of options available to producers, it is important to match the animal feeding requirements with their production potential. Working closely with nutritionists to formulate alternative feed ingredients can help with cost savings.  PD