Photo: Lise Gagne
Feed costs rank first among the variable costs of a dairy farm, although this can vary in relationship to farm forage availability. The most costly nutrients in dairy production are energy and protein. Sources of protein ingredients have experienced particular price pressure recently. Optimizing the use of amino acids and protein in the ration offers a way to improve milk production efficiency. Interestingly, the rumen microbiota produces both the most economical and highest quality source of protein and amino acid balance.
A perfect ecosystem
Ruminants can degrade fiber thanks to the synergistic actions of different microbial populations inside the rumen, including bacteria, fungi, protozoa and methanogens. This ecosystem ferments both fiber and other nutrients, such as sugars and carbohydrates (CHO), into short-chain fatty acids, (SCFAs). These represent the main energy source for the cow for both maintenance and milk production. Fermentation also fuels microbial growth and in-turn the synthesis of protein.
Energy and protein availability
Milk production depends directly on metabolizable energy and protein available to the animal, after the need for growth and maintenance. Modern, dynamic formulation systems such as the Cornell Net Carbohydrate and Protein System (CNCPS) or platforms such as Nutritional Dynamic System (NDS) calculate milk production forecasts based on metabolizable protein and the amino acids profile available at the intestinal level. This approach is becoming more widespread due to their strength in forecasting subsequent production.