ST. CLOUD, Minn. — In any livestock operation, managing costs is a critical factor in staying profitable. Feed costs are one of the largest costs associated with raising an animal, often accounting for 60-70% of costs. Supplemental protein is a necessary, but expensive component of the diet. Traditionally, soybean meal has been the gold standard when it comes to protein sources, but for dairy producers, canola meal can be an effective protein that cuts costs and actually increases production.
Canola meal is a byproduct of canola oil processing. As demand for canola oil has increased, acreage grown to canola in Canada and parts of the Northern Plains has increased as well. Because of this, there are ample quantities of canola meal that can be shipped down from our northern neighbors. Canola meal has a lower percentage of crude protein than soybean meal. Canola meal features about 38-40% crude protein, compared to 46-48%, which is common with soybean meal. Additionally, canola meal has less metabolizable energy and higher fat contents than soybean meal.
In feeding trials, canola meal has been shown to increase milk production in middle lactation dairy cows. Research performed at the U.S. Dairy Forage Research Center in Madison, Wisconsin tested the differences in milk yield, protein content, and fat levels in the milk. Their findings were a bit surprising, as middle lactation cows increased production by 2.2 pounds per day when fed canola meal instead of soybean meal. Not only was there an increase in milk production, as fat was increased by 0.11 pounds and protein saw an increase of 0.07 pounds per pound of milk. Additionally, dry matter intake was increased by 0.9 pounds per day. Canola meal also has a more complete amino acid profile than soybean meal, with research showing little difference in diets adding methionine as compared to canola meal with no supplementation.
If canola meal can help increase yield, fat, and protein, what negatives are there to consider before feeding canola meal. First, canola meal has around 75-80% of the total protein that soybean meal offers. Because of this, canola meal should be fed at higher rates to get the total amount of protein in the diet. A general rule of thumb is that 1.3 pounds of canola meal should be fed for every 1 pound of soybean meal that was included in the diet. Due to this change, and the fact that canola meal has less energy than soybean meal, there will be less energy present in the diet. Any time you are making a nutritional change, the ration should be recalculated to determine if all of the animal’s needs are being met.
From an economic standpoint, canola meal could be a more attractive option for supplemental protein than soybean meal. Currently, there is about an $80 per ton benefit to using canola meal compared to soybean meal. Even with an inclusion rate of 1.3:1 for canola meal, it can still show an economic savings to using canola meal.
Canola meal can be a way to maintain or increase production while cutting feed costs. However, higher inclusion rates and decreased energy values can be potential drawbacks of making this substitution in your herd.
— Eric Koehlmoos, University of Minnesota Extension
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