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Reviewing the Milk Production Research Behind Protein Sources

When choosing protein feed ingredients, it is important to keep the big picture in mind.

While the cost of the ingredient may play a large role in ingredient selection, ultimately, it’s the value from that ingredient that should be the deciding factor. The most important way of measuring value when it comes to feed ingredients? Milk production efficiency — a balance between cost-effectiveness and milk production response.

Some ingredients can be more cost-effective than others, but measuring that cost-effectiveness is not always as simple as it can seem. The value should always be considered in context of not just the raw ingredient cost, but also the cost of the rumen undegraded protein (RUP) and the amino acids supplied. As expected, cost-effectiveness can also vary based on market conditions.

Beyond the cost factor, it makes sense to carefully review any milk production research that may be available, particularly when evaluating ingredients you may be unfamiliar with or when evaluating varying inclusion levels. A meta-analysis can be a great way to concisely evaluate this research.

Canola meal meta-analysis
One of several meta-analyses on canola meal in dairy rations, conducted by Huhtanen, et al. (2011), compared milk production responses of diets in which protein increases in the ration were accomplished with canola meal versus with soybean meal. Consisting of 122 studies, the meta-analysis showed a 2.2-pound milk production increase advantage to canola meal over soybean meal. This and additional studies can be viewed in abstract form here.

Ultimately, reviewing the research beyond an ingredient and its cost efficiency together can help determine the right protein sources for each herd.