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Implementing amino acids in dairy rations: Lessons learned from the swine industry

Dr. Rob Musser and Dr. Fernando Valdez Published on 03 February 2011
cows at feed bunk

Use of some supplemental amino acids is now becoming available for all species worldwide.

In the past 20 to 30 years, adaptation of supplemental amino acid(s) in the non-ruminant diet has undergone sequential increases to where supplemental amino acids are now contributing 30 percent or more of the required lysine.

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In December, we were able to sit down with two worldwide experts in amino acid nutrition: retired professor and dairy nutritionist Dr. Charlie Sniffen and swine nutritionist Dr. Dean Boyd.

Both are considered within their industries to be experts in the education, research and implementation of amino acids.

Dr. Sniffen is a world-renowned researcher who spent part of his career at Cornell University researching and educating the industry about amino acid requirements using technologies, both ingredient and software, to fulfill these requirements.

Since leaving the industry, he is now the principal owner of Fencrest LLC, where he provides consulting services to the industry on implementation of dairy nutrition and technologies.

Dr. Boyd is considered a global expert on implementation of amino acids into production nutrition by his colleagues in the swine industry. Dr. Boyd also started at Cornell University, doing research and educating the non-ruminant industry on nutrition.

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He then became the global director of nutrition for the Pig Improvement Company (Swine Genetic supplier), where he and his team developed the first research-based amino acid requirements for a pig genetic firm.

Dr. Boyd is currently the technical director for the Hanor Company, a leading swine producer and processed meat supplier to the world. Hanor became the first company to utilize extraordinary levels of crystalline amino acids in pigs and poultry.

Considering their expertise and the challenge facing the dairy industry, we asked Dr. Sniffen and Dr. Boyd to discuss the issue of introducing supplemental amino acids into the diet of the dairy cow, and what information can be gained from experiences with amino acids in the swine industry.

In the dairy industry today, we often hear the following: “Changing to amino acid formulation is going to be a lot of hard work and is going to take a significant amount of time; will it be worth it?” Dr. Boyd easily answered, “It was indeed worth it, but time-consuming and hard work.”

As we conducted the interview, our two experts revealed many key actions and implications that occurred during the change to amino acid formulation in the swine industry. This article will use the following topics as a roadmap to assist in the review of information from the discussion:

  • Determination of the “ideal” amino acid pattern
  • Characterization of feed ingredients used in rations
  • Mental adaptation to amino acid formulation and research
  • Commercialization of amino acid supply
  • Net energy (NE) effects of the animal diet with amino acids
  • Environmental and land use impact
  • Need for unifying voice from the industry

As we detail the information shared by these two leaders in amino acids, it will become clear that the experiences of the swine industry may be able to help the dairy industry save time and effort in the pivotal change to amino acid ration formulation.

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1. The first point of developing the “ideal” amino acid pattern took a great deal of time and effort at the research level with universities across the world. Dr. Boyd reflected on this being the most pivotal part of the development in amino acids.

Prior to this, many projects were being done to determine the requirement of single amino acids across different genetics, feedstuffs and production methods. The impact of so many factors resulted in a low level of progress toward implementation.

Once researchers developed and adapted a belief and view of the “ideal” pattern of amino acid, they were able to focus on the broader implementation of amino acids, with the key ratio of the other amino acids being balanced relative to lysine.

Research to confirm the ideal amino acid pattern for lactating sows is now underway at universities and private research groups like Sow Innovations LLC (Sow Research Center in Illinois).

2. The second point of development, which is characterization of industry feed ingredients (corn, soybean meal and byproducts), has been underway for several decades and is continually being refined.

This point has everything to do with field implementation of amino acid formulation and, as Dr. Sniffen reminded, “it is this characterization that is a critical point for the dairy industry, and aspects of this can be used in the dairy industry with information taken from the efforts of the swine industry.”

The ongoing development is also needed due to changes in the industry, including the onset of DDGS (dried distillers grains with solubles), forage varieties and grain processing.

3. The third point of development was the mental adaptation of nutritionists and producers in the field to use amino acids. Dr. Boyd reflected that some swine producers found close relationships with nutritionists who were competent and had a desire to work to make this change. Those producers, he said, have found the most benefit and have maintained an advantage in the swine industry.

This adaptation moved from periods of adding 1 lb of Lysine HCL per ton to a period of the 3 Ib rule of thumb (3 lbs Lysine HCL with 97 lbs of corn can replace 100 lbs of soybean meal).

As will be discussed next, improved techniques for producing crystalline amino acids, in general, has allowed supplementation of higher levels of more types of amino acids.

Today, Dr. Boyd has been able to adopt 3 to 4 supplemental amino acids into the diets of Hanor, a 65,000-sow production system with operations in many regions of the U.S. Revisiting the question of “is it worth it,” Dr. Boyd said this use of amino acids reduces the annual use of soybean meal by 1,550 truckloads, or 38,750 tons.

This resulted in a savings of $1.50 to $1.90 per pig, with Hanor raising approximately 1.3 million pigs per year. Therefore, as you can see, it is worth it.

4. The fourth point of this discussion is the need for rapid commercialization of amino acid supply. The main issue with implementation of target nutrition in most industries is having available amino acid production when needed.

The first use of Lysine HCL in swine diets started to demonstrate the formulation advantage but required many companies to become large investors into this market.

After Lysine HCL production was online, more work began to commercialize threonine, methionine, tryptophan and valine, with more in development today.

5. The fifth point of the development was the Net Energy impact of the use of amino acid formulations. As pointed out by Dr. Boyd, this development of using more corn and less soybean meal in the diet resulted in an overall increase in energy concentration (with corn having more energy than soybean meal).

However, this development for the dairy industry has the potential to be different in implementation. As reviewed by Dr. Sniffen, this development might result in more use of local forages, resulting in purchased feed savings as well as reducing the need for expensive protein sources.

6. The sixth developmental point is based on the simple fact that being more precise with amino acid formulation allows much higher efficiency of nitrogen utilization, resulting in less nitrogen excreted in manure and urine.

Dr. Boyd said the implementation of a supplemental amino acid method of formulation has resulted in a 25 to 40 percent reduction in nitrogen output.

Dr. Sniffen also pointed out that the environmental impact of nitrogen output in the dairy industry is being closely monitored, and methods to continue to improve nitrogen efficiency will have added value, like the revision of the CNCPS model (CNCPS 6.1), which requires less protein than the former model.

Along with improvements in nitrogen efficiency in the diet, the use of supplemental amino acids in the Hanor system, as discussed earlier, has resulted in a reduction in soybean meal requirements by a total of 38,750 tons.

This reduced usage of soybean meal translates into lower land requirements for soybean acres.

7. The seventh and last point of development was a crucial aspect of the development of the amino acid feeding concept in the swine industry.

If an industry is to move ahead, a clear unifying voice is needed – a voice that can take in comments and research, and clearly provide the outcome to the industry for implementation. This voice could come from universities, commercial industry or both.

So, in summary, while there are many items that can be learned from this period of development in the swine industry, the issues of the rumen make it more complex but still achievable.

As our interview drew to a close, Dr. Boyd reminded us that forward progress is essential. “You have to start small, but just start,” he said. “You won’t get it exactly right, but you’ll get it a lot right.” PD

Co-author Dr. Fernando Valdez is the director of technical services for Kemin AgriFoods North America. He can be reached at

PHOTO: As our interview drew to a close, Dr. Boyd reminded us that forward progress is essential. “You have to start small, but just start,” he said. “You won’t get it exactly right, but you’ll get it a lot right.” Photo by PD staff.

Dr. Rob Musser
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  • NutriQuest/VAST LLC
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