Source: By Elizabeth Ng, University of Alberta
It’s safe, inexpensive, easy to do, and will help dairy cows digest their dinner better.
University of Alberta researcher Burim Ametaj and his research group found that soaking barley grain and heating it at low temperature with lactic acid before it’s fed to dairy cows will prevent a common digestive disorder.
Subacute rumen acidosis, or SARA, is caused when the rumen (one of four compartments in a cow’s stomach) has an acid imbalance because of the fermentation of the starch in cows’ diets. SARA can result in severe digestion problems and even metabolic disorders.
Ametaj says barley grain is an important source of energy which dairy cows need to produce milk. It’s also relatively cheap and plentiful, particularly in western Canada. However, barley’s starch content can also cause SARA.
The industry has tried to solve the problem by roasting, steam rolling or even using formaldehyde to process the barley before it’s fed to cows. None of them are cost-efficient and some may even pose health risks to the processors.
Ametaj and his colleagues were inspired by human diets to soak the barley in a lactic acid solution and heat it before feeding it to the cows.
"In human dietary research they’ve used lactic acid bacteria to prepare bread with lower glycemic index for people with diabetes because doing that increased the amount of starch that is digested in the lower gut," said Ametaj.
He and his group found that cows that were fed the mixture had a higher pH level in their rumen, which is crucial for preventing SARA.
"An important benefit of this new processing technology that part of barley starch bypasses the rumen and its digestion occurs in the intestines. We found a 24 per cent increase in the amount of resistant starch the one that bypasses the rumen," explained Ametaj.
Furthermore, the bio-availability of minerals in rumen increased so more minerals were released in rumen the cows," explained Ametaj who added this had the added effect of decreasing the amount of phosphorous contained in their manure and hence, released in the environment. Another benefit is that the feed increased the cows’ milk fat content.
He said this last result is important because milk fat produced by grain-fed dairy cows decreases. It’s known as milk fat depression syndrome. There are many hypotheses why this is happening, but no solid link has been found yet.
Ametaj wanted to study how to increase milk fat, which he said is important because producers are paid more for milk with a higher fat content.
In the meantime, he and his business partners have established a spinoff company called Healthy Cow Corporation, for which Armetaj is chief scientific officer, to bring their method of processing grain to industry-scale use.