Growing up, my family drove Chevy trucks. I still prefer Chevys over Fords, but I actually drive a Dodge Ram at the moment! Go figure. No matter if you are shopping for a truck or for feed ingredients, the process is a blend of preferences, economics, and in our new reality, availability.
Crippled logistics in our world may make a Chevy loyalist buy a Ford in 2021. These same logistics along with a drought in western Canada may make a dairy that really likes feeding canola meal change over to soybean meal (SBM) for the 2021 to 2022 crop year.
It is funny how trends come and go.
Some nutritionists may share my same history where 10 to 15 years ago, we were nervous every time canola was a better buy than SBM. It was with much fear and trembling that we would take out our beloved SBM and reduce feed costs by using canola instead. Over time, our comfort level improved greatly to where many dairy farmers prefer canola. Maybe this was an improvement in the way the formulation models described canola. I do remember a few canola “updates” over the years. Perhaps, we just learned how to make it fit with our other ingredients.
For me, it was a dairy in Colorado about 10 years ago that was my first client to approach 100 pounds of milk per cow per day. I took strong note of the fact that this diet had canola, not SBM. I am not saying that the canola received the credit for the high milk production, but it certainly was a big part of that high corn silage diet.
This is not necessarily a discussion about amino acids or rates of protein degradation in the rumen. For sure, those details are critical. But a good model should allow any shortages to be fixed and any excesses captured. The unexpected factor in this choice between SBM and canola is the cost and availability of fiber.
Canola has more fiber and lower protein than SBM. This would usually result in a higher inclusion rate in the diet. If a canola ration is changed to become a SBM ration, once the protein side is sorted out, we need to feed “more” of something else. The cost and availability of this “more” could be the economic driver of the decision.
In a general sense, when SBM is fed, a fiber source like on-farm forage or a by-product like soybean hulls comes in to fill the space. If forages are tight and/or expensive due to drought, this can be tough. Likewise, if other ingredient market realities make options like soybean hulls, wheat midds, and beet pulp overpriced, a protein value in SBM over canola may be overwhelmed. It may even come down to something as simple as bay space on the farm.
So, we are back to the formulation model to help not only with the biology, but the economics as well. If you have a corn silage-based diet and protein supplementation is a big portion of the ration, these feed rates can be significant. If the diet is high in alfalfa hay, these decisions will be less impactful. By using nutrients including NDFd30 and uNDF240, we can be sure to keep the fiber situation in order. Options like rumen-inert amino acids and urea can sure up any protein-side issues. The point is that the simple “spread” between canola and SBM nor the cost per unit of protein in each will make the final decision. These basic values can generate a discussion, but the model must sort out the details.
There are other protein sources in the conversation as well. Some of these are by-products like gluten feed or distillers. It is all a concert of various instruments to make the symphony. It is true none of our intuition, experience, or even good cow sense can find the very best solutions in these cases. It is only with a strong linear program connected into a strong biological model where you can find the best solution for both biology and economics.
Dairy producers and their nutritionists should strike a good balance of comfort levels from past experiences while using tools to best evaluate current realities. It’s a healthy respect for both of these and the use of a good modeling approach that will result in the best diets for 2021 to 2022.