New study aims to improve protein efficiency in dairy cows

Researcher to study how to lower protein content without compromising milk production


In humans, the nutrients you ingest are directly correlated to your performance and overall health. The same applies to animals.

Currently, the dairy industry relies on the expertise of dairy cow nutritionists who formulate diets for cows using an established protein model. Unfortunately, this model consistently underpredicts milk protein yield at low protein intake.

The Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA) and Alberta Milk have partnered with Dr. Lorraine Doepel, associate professor at the University of Calgary faculty of veterinary medicine, to revise the protein model. The aim is to reduce protein intake of dairy cows while maximizing milk protein yield through improved protein efficiency of use.

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“Current feed formulation models use a fixed efficiency factor for converting dietary protein into milk protein, regardless of the amount of protein that the cow consumes,” said Doepel. “We have previously shown that efficiency decreases as the cow consumes more protein, and this means that we underestimate milk protein yield at low protein intake and overestimate yield at high intakes. Our long-term goal is to develop a dynamic model that utilizes variable efficiency factors.”

Feed formulation programs consider energy and protein as separate entities, but their effects on milk protein yield are highly interrelated. The efficiency of protein capture in milk protein is stimulated by increases in energy intake, and milk and lactose yields are affected by protein supply. The mechanisms for these cross-responses to energy or protein supply are unknown and there is a need for a better understanding of the mechanisms driving milk protein synthesis.

Doepel’s research will help dairy nutritionists understand the interrelationships between dietary energy and protein. This new knowledge will be combined with results from other studies to update feed formulation models, allowing dairy nutritionists to formulate diets with lower protein content without compromising milk production.

“Feed is one of the top expenses for all livestock sectors, so when research finds a way to reduce feed costs without negatively affecting the animals, ALMA is on board,” said ALMA president and CEO Gordon Cove. “As well, increasing the knowledge base of dairy nutritionists will also help build capacity in the industry.”

For more information on this project, email Doepel at [email protected].

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