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Dairy Cows Do Not Have a Crude Protein Requirement

Aug 28, 2014

Focus your attention on metabolizable protein for more accurate results and improved nitrogen utilization.

Elliot Block RGB

By Dr. Elliot Block, Research Fellow, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition

Dairy cow feedstuffs contain many different proteins at various levels and quality. For years crude protein content was used for formulating dairy diets as one way to overcome this variability.

But crude protein has no relation to what is supplied to the animal that is useful for productive functions. Crude protein values only measure the nitrogen content of a feedstuff, which is the building block of proteins. It does not indicate if the nitrogen is an amino acid, non-protein nitrogen, the bioavailability or degradability of the nitrogen in the rumen, how much of the nitrogen escapes the rumen or if it is bound-nitrogen.1

In short, there is no dietary requirement for crude protein, yet this value still plays a significant role in dairy ration ingredient use and purchase decisions.

Crude protein is worth monitoring for a number of reasons, but it should no longer be the target value for ration balancing.

It is what’s in the protein and its impact on the cow, rumen and/or bacterial output performance that really matters.

Protein Breakdown

A combination of rumen bypass protein, endogenous protein and bacterial protein reaches the intestine and is available for absorption. This is metabolizable protein—it is what the animal needs, and should be the protein basis used to formulate rations.

Metabolizable protein supplies the amino acids the cows need for growth, to maintain body condition, produce milk and support fetal growth. Metabolizable protein is defined as the true protein that is digested postruminally, along with its amino acid components that are absorbed by the small intestine. Absorbed amino acids are used for the synthesis of proteins, which are essential for an animal’s growth, reproduction and milk production.

The Dairy National Research Council (2001) has suggested moving to a metabolizable protein system to better define and refine protein formulation and utilization, says Dr. Larry Chase, extension dairy nutrition specialist at Cornell University. "This system fits with the biology of the cow," he adds.

Stop Overfeeding Protein

Of utmost concern to dairy producers should be that when they base diets on crude protein, they are likely over- or underfeeding protein to cows. Either way, cows do not receive what they need.

For example, a ration may meet a cow’s metabolizable protein needs at varying crude protein levels—you can meet needs at 15% crude protein and/or 18% crude protein depending on the ration and feedstuffs included.

Plus overfeeding protein results in cows excreting excessive nitrogen. This has environmental impacts for dairies in regard to the release of nitrogen and ammonia emissions—both of which are under increasing scrutiny.

Furthermore, when buying feedstuffs based on crude protein, producers are not being efficient with their feed dollars, as shown by the chart below.

As you can see, rations with similar crude protein levels can deliver vastly different metabolizable protein levels. Note that the values shown here are based on the increase in metabolizable protein predicted in CPM Dairy (v5.0) by adding one pound of each supplement to a high-producing cow’s diet. Furthermore, it was assumed that the price per ton of soybean meal, FERMENTEN™, blood meal and canola were $500, $650, $1,000 and $375, respectively.

What’s Stopping You?

Balancing rations based on metabolizable protein is increasing in the dairy industry, but not everyone is doing so yet.

The challenge is that this system is not as simple as it is with crude protein, and requires the use of ration balancing programs to calculate both metabolizable protein requirements and the metabolizable protein supplied by feeds and microbial protein synthesized in the rumen, explains Chase. Still, he says, the industry is changing to a metabolizable protein approach.

Successful implementation will require working more closely with nutritionists and other nutritional partners to determine the metabolizable protein value of feedstuffs under consideration for ration inclusion. It also means working with these partners during purchase decisions to help producers make the most economical decisions when determining which feed ingredients to buy.

Don’t let this change in this relationship throw you. "This system should provide an opportunity to improve the efficiency of protein use in dairy cattle," Chase concludes. That improvement can have long-lasting impacts on your dairy’s productivity and profitability.

1 Varga G. Why Use Metabolizable Protein for Ration Balancing. Available at: Accessed November 17, 2013.

Success of Stall Measured in Inches, Not Feet

Aug 07, 2014

When was the last time you really looked to see if your cows have enough space in their freestalls?

By Tom Lorenzen, Alltech Dairy Specialist

Stop, look and listen to your cows. When was the last time you spent some time observing your herd in their freestalls? What did you hear and see?

Cows don’t lie when it comes to how they prefer to lie down. Cows lying backwards are often turning away from stall features they dislike and pointing to open space needed for freedom of normal motion.

Cows lie in the stall in one of four normal resting positions: wide, narrow, short and long. The short resting position is where the cow can place her head next to her body. She can also groom herself while lying down. It’s natural behavior to see a cow in the wide position, sunning herself in the pasture. In the freestall, the cow will rest more on her side with the rear legs extended. In the long position, the cow rests with her head extended forward.

No matter what position the cow chooses, the freestall needs to provide the cow the freedom to rest with her legs, udder and tail on the platform. Every dairy needs to provide a clean, dry and comfortable stall so that cows can lie down 10 to 14 hours per day.

One dairy I recently visited had many rough and bruised top lines on its cows. More than 33%  of the cows perched in their stalls.

We made spacers to raise the neck rail up from 42 inches to 50 and perching went down 20%. It is important to remember the neck rail positions the cow to stand up so that she can defecate in the alley.

The dairy also removed the concrete and 2x8 brisket boards. They used sand in the front of the stalls as brisket locators and perching went down another 2%. Milk production increased by 4 lb. per cow and the dairy also noticed a decrease in lameness.

Without a brisket locator, a cow will lie too far forward so when she gets up she will disrupt three other cows lying down. We can reduce these events with a deterrent strap.

A deterrent strap must not interfere with the upward bobbing of the head. A suggested placemat
is 0.7 x rump height above stall surface (cow’s feet). A deterrent strap, not a steel cable, will reduce the number of cows walking through the stalls.

Also, if there is not enough sand in the front of the stall to act as the "‘brisket locator’" to position the cow, then she tends to lay too far forward in the stall and then crawls backward to get up to avoid pain from the neck rail.

Once sand is added, the dairy should use a tool to level out the stalls so that the cows have a nice, soft, even bed to lie down in. What causes cows to lie diagonally in their stall? The answer is inadequate lunge space and too short of a resting space.

We also need to remember the dry/transition cows when it comes to space. We need to provide a minimum of 150 square feet per cow and 30 to 36 inches of bunk space. We also need to ensure we are providing enough water space for these cows. A dry cow has 45 to 60 days to re-charge her battery for the next lactation. Are we providing enough feed bunk space and water space for these cows?

According to Dr. Neil Anderson, Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, there are six cow freedoms to consider in stall design:

1. Freedom to stretch their front legs forward
2. Freedom to lie on their sides with unobstructed space for their neck and head
3. Freedom to rest their heads against their sides without hindrance from a partition
4. Freedom to rest with their legs, udder and tails on the platform
5. Freedom to stand or lie without fear or pain from neck rails, partitions or supports
6. Freedom to rest on a clean, dry and soft bed

In conclusion, it’s important to remember a cow’s stall is designed to allow the cow to get up straight in the stall without pain or injury. The success of the stall is measured in inches, not feet. Always do what is best for your cow and provide continuous training for parlor efficiency.

Tom Lorenzen is an Alltech On-Farm Support Manager in Juneau, Wis. Prior to joining Alltech, Lorenzen spent 10 years with a feed ingredient company looking for non-nutritional bottlenecks that affect quality milk production and performance. His interest in the dairy industry led him to develop the Udder Health and Sanitation program for a major milking equipment company. His focus with Alltech is on three areas: dairy audits, education through milking technician schools, and education through milk quality presentations to the dairy industry. He has spoken at the World Dairy Expo in China, the Cigal Dairy Show in Mexico, and the National Mastitis Council Meeting in the U.S. Contact him at

Refugia 101: Dilution Is the Solution

Aug 04, 2014

"If parasites are such a health threat to my cattle, why not deworm all of them?" Here’s why you shouldn’t.

Van Dyke 20small[1]

By Tom Van Dyke, Merial Veterinary Services

If parasites are such a health threat to my cattle, then why wouldn’t I want to deworm all of them? This is a logical and typical follow-up question by producers learning about the concept of refugia. Now, instead of eliminating all internal parasites, maintaining refugia means intentionally allowing some worms to survive.1,2,3

Internal parasites have long been recognized as one of the most costly health challenges in the livestock industries.3,4,5 Dairy calves and replacement heifers on grass are at greatest risk from the costly negative effects of internal parasites.6,7 Parasitism reduces weight gains in dairy calves and yearlings, affects body condition scores, delays time to first breeding and impairs milk production during first lactation.6,7

Dewormers, or anthelmintics, have been recognized as one of the most cost-effective pharmaceutical technologies.5 Anthelmintics have improved in spectrum and efficacy over time.3 There is a growing concern that repeated use of products from the available dewormer classes may lead to widespread parasite resistance.1,2,4,5,8

Resistance means that an increasing percentage of parasites in a population survive treatment with a dewormer that has been effective in the past. With each successive treatment, a few resistant parasites may survive to pass on their genetics to the next generation. After repeated treatments, the percentage of resistant parasites on a farm may outnumber the more susceptible ones, and then the dewormer loses effectiveness.1,3,4,8

Refugia is being advocated as an important tool to slow the progress of resistance and maintain effectiveness of the dewormers currently available.1,2,3,4 Refugia is the part of the total parasite population which is not exposed to the antiparasitic drug being used. The worms, and their genes, in "refuge" could hide out in non-treated animals, eggs and larvae on the pasture or parasite stages not reached by a specific dewormer.1,2,4 If there is sufficient refugia and if a very effective dewormer is used, then the proportion of resistant genes in the population can be kept low.1,9 The resistant parasites are diluted by susceptible parasites. Animals will more likely be re-infected with susceptible parasites and continue to shed more eggs from susceptible worms back to the pasture. The dewormer remains effective.1,9

Studies and computer models where 10% of the sheep in a herd were left untreated indicated that a significant delay in resistance development can be accomplished.9 Refugia in herds of sheep can also be maintained by using a method to detect and treat only the severely infected animals.1 But cattle are not sheep, and the primary parasites of concern are different between the species.

Management practices used to minimize the effect of parasites and resistance may be similar, but don’t translate exactly from sheep to cattle.10

Unfortunately, there is not a total consensus among the parasitology experts regarding the best practices to forestall anthelmintic resistance.1,3,4,8,9,10,11

So what does all this mean to the producer who wants optimal health and production for all cattle while seeking to maintain efficacy of the dewormers? "How many untreated animals are needed for refugia? Which class of animal needs treatment the least? On which class of animal does treatment have the biggest impact? Which class is the cheapest to treat? Which is the easiest to treat?"

These are all questions South Dakota State University’s Dr. Mike Hildreth suggests will need to be answered at the individual farm level.11

Merial is a world-leading, innovation-driven animal health company, providing a comprehensive range of products to enhance the health, well-being and performance of a wide range of animals. Merial employs approximately 6,200 people and operates in more than 150 countries worldwide with close to €2 billion of sales in 2013. Merial is a Sanofi company. For more information, please see

1 Antiparasitic Resistance in Cattle and Small Ruminants in the United States: How to Detect It and What to Do About It. Helpful Information for Veterinarians. Available at Accessed January 39, 2014.
2 Beef + Lamb New Zealand. Worms in refugia as a tool to delay drench resistance. Beef + Lamb New Zealand R & D Brief; Number 130: August 2007. Available at . Accessed June 11, 2014.
3 Wolfgang D. Can Parasite Control be More Effective and Reduce Resistance at the Same
Time? Penn State Extension. April 24, 2013. Available at Accessed June 11, 2014.
4 Navarre CB. Best Management Practices: Internal Parasite Control in Louisiana Beef Cattle. June 2013. Available at Accessed June 11, 2014.
5 Lawrence JD, Ibarburu MA. Economic analysis of pharmaceutical technologies in modern beef production in a bioeconomy era. 2007. Iowa State University. Available at Accessed June 11, 2014.
6 Elsener J, Villeneuve A, DesCoteaux L. Evaluation of a strategic deworming program
in dairy heifers in Quebec based on the use of moxidectin, an endectocide with
a long persistency. Can Vet J 2001;42;38-44.
7 Boyles S, Johnson LJ, Slanger WD, Dreft BJ, Kirsch JD. Effect of Deworming Heifers on Gain and Reproduction. NDSU Institutional Repository. Farm Research: Vol. 49, No.6(Winter 1992-1993)
8 Cima G. Worms’ adaptation a critical problem. JAVMA news, May 01, 2013. Available at c. Accessed June 11, 2014.
9 Leathwick DM, Waghorn TS, Miller CM, Candy PM, Oliver MB. Managing anthelmintic resistance - Use of a combination anthelmintic and leaving some lambs untreated to slow the development of resistance to ivermectin. Vet Parasitol. 2012;187:285-294.
10 Maday J. Parasitologist Gasbarre response to FDA report. Drovers CattleNetwork. April 29, 2013. Available at Accessed January 30, 2014.
11 Hildreth M. Trichostrongyle Parasite Management in Cows, Calves and Stockers from the Northern Great Plains. Presented Merial Veterinary Symposium; Sioux Falls, South Dakota. January 24, 2014.

Hoof Blocking Is Most Critical in Summer and Early Fall

Jul 31, 2014

A closer look at the five main triggers that drive the need to apply hoof blocks.

By Dr. Dana Tomlinson, Research Nutritionist, Zinpro Corporation

Proper blocking is essential to the recovery of diseased, damaged or improperly trimmed claws. Summer and early fall are especially important times with respect to development of claw damage or Claw Horn Disruption (CHD) resulting in the need for pain relief through therapeutic blocking.

Heat stress, for example, often causes cows to increase standing time and can result in CHDs such as sole ulcer, white line disease and heel fracture. Heat abatement measures may also weaken claw horn, as time standing in manure, urine and water increase. Breakdown in horn integrity may accelerate claw wear, resulting in thin soles, as well as loss of heel horn and claw angle. The subsequent weight imbalance can cause sole hemorrhaging, sole ulcers, and painful lameness.

Another often overlooked factor is the increased frequency of parturition (calving) in late-summer and early-fall months. Unfortunately, painful lameness frequently occurs in early lactation (the first two through five months of lactation). Parturition often results in mobility of the pedal bone with potential damage to sole corium, especially if further complicated by extended standing time due to poor stall comfort, additional time in headlocks for health management, high stocking density and poor stockmanship.

Parturition is also closely associated with metabolic disorders such as hypocalcemia (milk fever) and hypoglycemia (ketosis), which often result in production of inferior claw horn. In addition, significant loss of body fat in early lactation may lead to loss of sole fat pad support, which results in sinking of the pedal bone with potential development of a sole ulcer.

When are hoof blocks needed?

There are five main triggers that drive the need to apply hoof blocks:

1. Heat stress, which contributes to CHD due to:
• extended standing time, sole concussion, corium damage and hemorrhage;
• excessive sole wear;
• increased claw hydration due to standing in water, manure and urine; and
• heel fracture from extended standing times.

2. Excessive sole wear caused by:
• long walking distances;
• poor flooring – broken, irregular or deteriorated walking surfaces;
• improperly finished or aggressively grooved flooring;
• walking up and down sloped walkways; and
• sand or other abrasive bedding materials.

3. Metabolic disorders, including milk fever, ketosis, SARA and systemic infections (reproductive or respiratory). These may cause CHD and repeated production of inferior horn with subsequent loss of pedal bone support, sole hemorrhage development, and greater potential for sole ulcer.

4. Infectious claw diseases may result in cows with significant imbalance or loss of sole horn (such as heel horn erosion) or cows that walk on their toes (such as digital dermatitis and foot rot).

5. Improper trimming. Toes trimmed too short, soles trimmed too thin, excess removal of sole horn at the toe, abaxial wall, or excess removal of heel horn (claw angle too shallow) may also require blocking.

Block application steps

Blocking shifts weight bearing within the claw to allow for recovery of damaged living tissue and claw horn. Since sole horn grows at approximately 5 mm (about 0.25 inch) per month, blocks should last at least four weeks or longer. Use the following proper block application steps to help ensure good results.

step 1 1. Check to make sure that the block is applied such that weight is transferred off the diseased or damaged claw. Note the block is 5o higher on the axial side to help lift weight off the affected claw.  This also helps pull the block in under the foot, giving it more support and stability.
step 2 2. Make sure the block is applied so a 50°-52° hoof angle is maintained. Rebalance or reshape block (if needed).

step 3 3a. Apply the block flush or slightly recessed from the tip of the toe.
step 3b 3b. Apply the block flush or slightly recessed from the tip of the toe.
step 4 4. Carefully place block to insure it is perpendicular with the shinbone and parallel with the axis between the claws. Allow block glue to fully cure before releasing the foot.


Dr. Tomlinson has a doctorate degree in animal science, ruminant nutrition and management from Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University and is employed by Zinpro Corporation as a research nutritionist based in Virginia. Email him at


Don’t Rely on Book Values When Formulating Rations

Jul 24, 2014

The nutrient values of various feedstuffs aren’t consistent from load to load -- and that’s not easy on a cow’s rumen.

By Dr. Joel Pankowski, Manager, Field Technical Services, Arm & Hammer Animal Nutrition

The most successful rations feature ingredients that are mixed and fed properly, and are consistent in nutrient value and quality day-in and day-out. This attention to detail enhances feed intake and maximizes cow health and productivity.

However, the nutrient values—like protein, fiber and starch levels—of various feedstuffs are not consistent from load to load. The situation gets even more challenging if you do not work with the right data to make ration decisions.

Variation Occurs Often

The same variation found in forages occurs within many other commodity feedstuffs like soybean meal, dried distillers grains, cottonseed and beet pulp—not all of which are considered to be highly variable. As a result, it’s common practice to simply follow supplier guarantees for many of these ingredients.

However, assuming these values are accurate means you may be overestimating or underestimating the nutrient value of half your ration, since rations are commonly split 50/50 between forages and commodity ingredients. That assumption can lead to unnecessarily high feed cost and/or undesirable animal performance.

"What if the ingredient contributed to 100 more grams of metabolizable protein than the book value projected?" asks John Goeser, director of nutrition, research and innovation at Rock River Laboratory, Inc. "That knowledge of that difference can mean the ability to shave from 7 to 15 cents off your ration cost."

Differences in field conditions, varieties, harvesting, processing and a host of other variables mean it is unrealistic to expect commodity byproduct feed ingredients to remain constant. Still, it’s common to treat them as though their nutrient composition is unchanging when formulating rations.

Book Values a Best-Guess

It’s tempting to use book values to account for ingredient nutrient values to help average or "smooth" out some of the disparity. And while a good resource, some of the values for various commodity feeds housed in the National Research Council (NRC) database may be based on a small sample size. Or, the data used for the library may not be accurate for your region.

In 1989 researchers from the University of Missouri noted that, "Diets incorporating byproduct feeds should be evaluated carefully to avoid mineral imbalances and to maintain protein quality. Use of book values for balancing diets containing significant quantities of byproduct feeds could lead to nutritional problems, and testing should be encouraged."1

Furthermore, a 1995 survey2 of nine commodity feeds in California showed that the nutrient content of these ingredients differed by more than 20% from NRC results. Additional California studies in 2000 and 2007 featuring even more ingredients found similar nutrient variation results.

Feedstuff Variation Is Significant

Data presented by Goeser and his colleagues at the 2013 American Dairy Science Annual Meeting showed significant differences in rumen dry matter digestibility, protein bypass and substantial variation within feeds for soybean meal, canola meal, corn distillers grain, corn gluten, soy hulls and expeller meal.3

"Concentrate feed fiber content variation is just one parameter that’s not generally accounted for in dairy rations," explains Goeser. "Fiber, protein and starch levels are three parameters in these feeds that you really need to monitor to increase ration consistency and accuracy."

A 2012 study at Ohio State University illustrated that the variation in NDF among commodity feed ingredients was similar to the NDF variation found in forages. Assuming a 20% inclusion rate and average within farm variation for concentrate NDF, diet NDF could change by 0.3 to 0.8 percentage units.4

Inaccuracies Impact Performance

It’s not easy for a cow’s rumen to adapt to feed ingredient variation. As a result, suboptimal performance may occur.

For example, research5 conducted at Ohio State University last year showed that dairy cows fed a diet that contained either 7% long-chain fatty acids or 4.8% long-chain fatty acids produced less milk and had lower dry matter intake than cows fed diets with less variation.

What to Do?

While variation will always occur in forages and commodity feeds, you have options to deal with it.

The inclusion of less variable feed ingredients is one area to explore. For example, you can select an ingredient with a consistent level of dietary protein so you know more precisely what cows receive, and then deal with variability for other ration nutrients. At least you can be confident in ration protein.

Another suggestion is to adopt a routine commodity testing program similar to a testing program for your forages. While commodity feeds are not on hand as long as forages, you can compare nutrient composition of a current sample to that of the previous two truckloads to get a sense of the variability for which you must account in formulating diets.

To learn more about managing your ration to minimize variability and achieve consistent performance, visit

1 Belyea RL, Steevens BJ, Restropo RJ, Clubb AP. Variation in Composition of By-Product Feeds. J of Dairy Sci 1989;72:2339-2345.
2 Arosemena A, DePeters EJ, Fadel JG. Extent of Variability in Nutrient Composition Within Selected By-product Feedstuffs. Animal Feed Science and Technology 1995;54:103-120.
3 Goeser J, Heuer C, Meyer L. Midwestern U.S. Byproduct Feedstuffs Vary in Ruminal Nutrient Digestion. 2013;ADSA-ASAS JAM Poster TH112.
4 Weiss WP, St.-Pierre NR. Nutrient Variability in Feeds Within Farms, in Proceedings. Cornell Nutrition Conference 2012;157-166.
5 Weiss WP, Yoder P, McBeth L, Shoemaker D, St.-Pierre NR. Effect of Variation in Nutrient Composition of Diets of Lactating Dairy Cows, in Proceedings. 2013 Tri-State Dairy Nutrition Conference. Available at: Accessed June 2, 2014.


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