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Revised protein feed strategies for better margins this spring 

With soyabean meal over £300/t and rapemeal topping £200/t, the high cost of meeting dairy cow protein requirements looks set to continue through the summer. But according to Trident technical manager Dr Michael Marsden, there are still good options available to help reduce protein feed costs, and improve margins. 

“Prices are being kept high by strong global demand for soyabeans, especially from China, combined with concerns over production in South America,” he outlines. “Unless worldwide supply begins to substantially overtake demand – which doesn’t look likely this year – prices for the major protein feed commodities are going to remain firm. 

“Volatility is also going to be an issue following events in North Africa and the Middle East. So rather than waiting in the hope that prices improve, farmers need to tackle the problem head-on, and look for alternative feeding strategies that will reduce their reliance on expensive soyabean meal and rapemeal,” he adds. 

A balance of digestible fibre in the buffer feed will maximise capture of the rumen degradable protein in grazed grass, as well as provide the building blocks for milk fat – in short supply in grass – and help buffer against acidosis. The majority of the additional protein required, such as to support early lactation yields, must be supplied in the form of rumen-bypass protein. 

The challenge this summer is to find the best value sources of both rumen-bypass protein – otherwise known as digestible undegraded protein (DUP) – and any additional rumen degradable protein needed. Table 1 compares the DUP content and value of soyabean meal and rapemeal with the most cost-effective alternatives currently available, whilst also highlighting the different energy contents. 

“Because of the high price of cereals this year, the energy content is important, even though the priority is to find a better value source of protein,” continues Dr Marsden. “Bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed is a new option for many, but as well as a good source of protein, it’s also high in energy, most of which is in the form of the digestible fibre that’s an ideal complement for lush spring grass. 

Table 1 – Comparative costs of rumen-bypass protein

Price 1

(£/t)

Rumen-bypass protein

(g DUP /kg)

DUP value

(p/100g DUP)

Energy content

(MJ ME/kg DM)

SoyPass (rumen-protected soyabean meal)

368

315

11.7

13.5

ProtoTec (heat-treated rapemeal)

228

150

15.2

11.8

Hi-pro soyabean meal

316

180

17.6

14.0

Rapemeal

193

104

18.6

11.8

Bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed

208

104

18.6

13.7

1 Replacement prices quoted correct at time of going to press, 29t bulk deliveries on-farm within 50 miles of source, prices will vary with load sizes and distance from source. 

“The comparison in Table 2 shows how bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed can be used to directly replace a 55:45 combination of soyabean meal and wheat, for example, for a 20% saving, equivalent to £63/t. It means that although bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed might appear to be more expensive as a source of protein alone, reformulating the ration to take full account of both the energy and protein supply will produce the best overall cost savings.” 

Table 2 – Comparative costs of rumen-bypass protein

Price 1

(£/t)

kg freshweight (FW)

Soyabean meal + wheat

Bio-fuel wheat distillers’ feed

Hi-pro soyabean meal

316

0.55

-

Wheat (rolled)

216

0.45

-

Bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed

216

-

1.00

Energy (MJ ME/kg freshweight)

12.2

12.6

Crude protein (%)

31.5

32.0

DUP (g DUP/kg)

110

104

Cost (p/kg)

27.1

20.8

1 Replacement prices quoted correct at time of going to press, 29t bulk deliveries on-farm within 50 miles of source, prices will vary with load sizes and distance from source. 

Table 3 shows example rations where 3kg/cow/day of bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed is used to replace a combination of soyabean meal, rapemeal, sugar beet feed and wheat. The overall result is a saving of 18.9p/cow/day, which represents a 3% reduction in the cost of the ration, worth around £2,835 for a 150 cow herd during the first 100 days of lactation. 

Table 3 – Example rations for buffer-fed early lactation cows (M+30 litres)

kg freshweight/cow/day

Base ration

Bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed

Plus rumen-protected soyabean meal

Grazed grass (good quality)

45.00

45.00

45.00

Grass silage (good quality)

5.00

5.00

5.00

Maize silage (good quality)

10.00

10.00

10.00

Wheat

1.50

1.75

1.75

Sugar beet feed

2.50

1.00

1.00

Hi-pro soyabean meal

0.75

-

-

Rapemeal

2.00

0.75

-

Rumen-protected fat

0.25

0.25

0.25

Bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed

-

3.00

3.00

SoyPass (rumen-protected soyabean meal)

-

-

0.75

Parlour compound

4.00

4.00

4.00

Wheat straw (chopped)

0.50

0.50

0.50

Vitamin & mineral premix

0.15

0.15

0.15

Ration cost (£/cow/day) 1

3.76

3.64

3.75

Ration cost saving (£/cow/day)

-

0.12

0.01

Additional milk income (@25ppl) 2

-

-

0.25

Net benefit (£/cow/day)

-

0.12

0.26

1 Ration costs based on spot prices at time of writing, including estimated cost for silages and grazed grass.

2 Based on 1.0 litres/cow/day response to additional 150g DUP/cow/day. 

Alternatively, the high DUP content of heat-treated rapemeal supplements like ProtoTec can be used to directly replace soyabean meal in the ration. According to Dr Marsden, it’s entirely possible for high yielding herds to be fed no soyabean meal at all, with a very high quality rumen-bypass protein like SoyPass used to supply any additional DUP required at a cost that’s currently 34% less per unit than soyabean meal. 

However, Dr Marsden’s preferred option is to make the most of a grazing cow’s response to additional DUP over and above standard recommendations, for an even bigger net benefit. Table 2 shows what happens if the saving made by including bio-ethanol wheat distillers’ feed is invested in additional rumen-bypass protein. 

“The extra 150g DUP/cow/day that comes from replacing 0.75kg of rapemeal with 0.75kg of rumen-protected soyabean meal (SoyPass) will typically increase early lactation grazing yields by around 1.0 litre/cow/day when grazing,” he explains. “The result is a net benefit of 26p/cow/day, or £3,900 for a 150 cow herd through early lactation, and that’s got to be worth considering in the current economic climate.”

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