Balancing for amino acids with low milk prices

February 16, 2009 06:00 PM

Rick Lundquist

There are four main reasons why you should balance your rations for amino acids:

        1. To reduce your feed cost.
        2. To increase milk production and reduce body condition loss in fresh cows.
        3. To increase milk protein.
        4. To reduce nitrogen excretion to the environment and prevent government regulation.

I listed them in order of importance considering the current economic situation in our industry (crisis may be more accurate). But amino acid balancing can be confusing, and the results are not always successful. Dr. Bob Patton explained why and tried to make the concept of amino acid balancing more user friendly to practicing dairy nutritionists last week at the Florida Ruminant Nutrition Symposium.

Much of the emphasis on amino acid balancing has been to increase milk protein.  Milk protein is worth something in some markets, but many dairies don't get a protein bonus. And genetics is the overriding influencer of milk protein.

Reducing ration protein and hence, feed cost is a more predictable goal of balancing for amino acids. Lowering protein without giving up milk production is a win – win situation, especially now. And even though most dairies can't make money with current milk prices, maximizing production in fresh cows still makes sense. Because fresh cows can't consume enough feed, they depend on gluconeogenesis from amino acids to supply glucose to support high milk production.

Dr. Patton offers these recommendations for balancing for amino acids:

  1. A good modeling program is needed to integrate all the factors required to predict microbial protein and the amino acid composition of bypass protein. Pick a program such as NRC, Amino Cow or CPM Dairy, learn it, use it and stick with it. Each model will give you slightly different results, so you need to know its biases.
  2. If you can't measure the dry matter intake of a group of cows accurately, don't waste your time balancing for amino acids. With the exception of fresh cows, don't use the model's intake predictions; use your own actual intakes.
  3. The economic benefits of amino acid balancing won't be fully realized unless you are willing to track dry matter intake on a daily basis and group for production.
  4. Despite model predictions, reducing crude protein below 16.7% in high cow diets may result in loss of milk.

Reference: Patton, R.A., 2009 Florida Ruminant Nutrition Symposium Proceedings.

--Rick Lundquist is an independent nutrition and management consultant based in Duluth, Minn. You can contact him at

This column is part of the Dairy Today e-Update newsletter, which is delivered to subscribers biweekly and includes dairy industry analysis, dairy nutrition information as well as the latest dairy headline news. Click here to subscribe.



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