Dr. Kalscheur theorized that the increased production is due to the additional methionine, an essential amino acid, that canola meal contributes to the cow’s diet. “There is a growing body of work in dairy nutrition research demonstrating that feeding methionine in early lactation or even possibly in the dry period is very positive both for milk production and for reproduction during the course of a full lactation,” he said. “Canola meal fits into the theory that providing methionine in early lactation improves productivity as well as the health of the animal.”
This is the first early lactation study that has focused on the inclusion of canola meal, he added. Most studies with canola meal have been with cows in mid- to late-lactation.
While a rumen protected methionine supplement could be added to a diet with soybean meal, Kalscheur pointed out that the supplement is fairly expensive, and generally, soybean meal is higher in price as well.
“Canola meal is a high-quality feed; it’s better in methionine than soybean meal and better in lysine than distillers grains,” he said. “Canola meal in combination with other feeds will probably fill a niche better than any feed by itself.”
Glen Broderick, PhD, a research scientist at the Dairy Forage Research Center for 32 years, studied canola meal as a protein supplement beginning in 2010. He explained that compared to soybean meal, “more of the protein in canola meal escapes the rumen — less protein is broken down by the microorganisms in the rumen — and there is a better amino acid pattern in that protein. The result is more methionine in the rumen undegraded protein (RUP) from canola meal than in the RUP from soybean meal.”
The way dairy cows are fed in North America, methionine is most often the first limiting amino acid, according to Dr. Broderick. That means it’s naturally in the shortest supply in the protein digested by the cow, and the cow needs more for optimum production.
“The RUP of canola meal is higher in methionine than soybean meal, plus there is more RUP with canola meal — enough to improve production,” he said. “The protein is not as concentrated in canola meal as it is in soybean meal, which has to be taken into account when balancing rations, but the nutritional value of the protein in canola meal is better for the dairy cow.”
In addition to higher milk production, the high level of methionine in the RUP of canola meal also improves protein quality of the milk, according to Broderick. “The amino acid pattern of canola meal RUP results in increased concentration of protein in the milk, giving the producer an economic advantage,” he said.
Steve Woodford, PhD, a consultant with Nutrition Professionals Inc., in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, began including canola meal in diets when mills in his area first started to source it.
“In research, it appeared that canola meal was superior to soybean meal in amino acid balance, and in feeding trials, it seemed canola meal performed as well or better than soybean meal, which initially is why I included it in diets,” he said. “I tell my clients it’s a cost-effective protein; it allows me to keep the diet cost down, even if it’s not the least-cost protein, by using it and not purchasing protected amino acids, which would bring the cost higher.”
Dr. Woodford, who has been serving primarily eastern Wisconsin for 30 years, says he uses canola meal as a protein source in diets to improve performance and milk protein.
“Cheese plants will pay a bonus for extra protein above and beyond the federal marketing order,” he said, and in his area, almost all milk goes into cheese.
Marty Faldet, PhD, with GPS Dairy Consulting, LLC, works with herds in Iowa, Wisconsin and Michigan. He has been feeding canola meal for more than 10 years, mostly for clients in the Green Bay area.
“Canola meal really stood out as a good buy, even though initially there was not too much research around it at that time,” he said.
“I have always favored soybean meal, giving it a better value on energy and adjusting mainly on a protein basis,” Dr. Faldet added. “But over the years, we’ve come to understand the balancing of amino acids and using modeling programs for dairy cow nutrition that help us understand that we are gaining methionine when we change from soybean meal to canola meal.”
Canola meal is a coproduct of the canola oil crushing process and is approximately 36 percent crude protein, with a high bypass protein value and amino acid profile well suited for milk production. Because of its high protein content, canola meal is often used as a protein supplement for animal feeds, including dairy rations. Visit www.canolamazing.com to learn more.