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Improve profitability through amino acid balancing

David O. Jensen Published on 03 February 2011
cows in milking parlor

Anyone involved in the dairy industry realizes these are difficult times. Nevertheless, there are strategies that can help improve profitability even during these hard times.

One such strategy is to balance rations for amino acids. This strategy is useful when dairymen are paid based on protein or solids production.



The concept of amino acid balancing is to use ingredients that will raise the level of lysine and methionine in the blood and thereby increase production of milk protein.

Unprotected sources of these amino acids will be readily consumed by ruminal bacteria.

Therefore, to obtain the desired effect, it is necessary to feed products that will bypass the rumen and yet still be absorbed in the small intestine. The product of choice to raise lysine is blood meal. There are several commercial products on the market that will supply protected methionine.

One of the greatest challenges for nutritionists balancing any ration is variability of feed ingredients. This variability is particularly problematic when using blood meal.

At the Cornell Nutrition Conference 2009, S. Boucher reported on 265 samples of blood meal submitted to Dr. Normand St. Pierre at Ohio State University.


The variability in digestible rumen-undegradable protein (dRUP) ranged from 4.2 percent to 96.4 percent. Clearly, if you are planning to amino acid balance, the source of blood meal used is critical.

Some blood meal production plants are simply more consistent and more precise in their handling and processing procedures. Ensure your blood meal source has agreements with plants that produce a consistent, high-quality blood meal product.

Considerable economic benefits are available to those who amino acid balance. Protein and energy efficiencies improve when amino acid balancing is done successfully.

This means you can feed a lower crude protein level when amino acid balancing, which can save supplemental protein costs.

There is also a potential milk increase. Dr. Joanne Knapp reported at the 2010 Pacific Northwest Animal Nutrition Conference that a 50g improvement in metabolizable protein (MP) supply would equate to 2.5 lbs more milk at 3.0 percent true protein.

She pointed out that normally the responses are not that large, but the potential for more milk is there.


How much milk response a dairyman experiences when amino acid balancing is often dependent upon how well-balanced the ration was before amino acid balancing was undertaken.

When a ration is properly balanced for amino acids, it must also be balanced for rumen-degradable protein (RDP). Rumen bacteria are the least-expensive source of amino acids for milk and milk protein production, and the needs of the bacteria must be met if results are to be optimum. When this is accomplished, there is usually a butterfat response of about .1 percent.

Another significant economic benefit comes from the increase in protein percent of the milk. Our experience would indicate that on the average, we see a .15 percent increase in summer and .3 percent increase in the winter months when amino acid balancing.

With 75 lbs of milk and a pay price of $2.50/lb of protein produced, the return would range from 28 cents/cow in the summer to 56 cents/cow in the winter.

For those paid on solids-not-fat (SNF), the return would be based on the improvement of SNF times the price paid per pound of SNF.

The nice thing about amino acid balancing is that the response is relatively quick. Some products or approaches taken to improve animal performance take weeks and even months to know if you realized a return.

With amino acid balancing, you know within a few days what the response was. That way you are only risking a few days worth of cost before you see the results. I like to allow at least two weeks, but truthfully, most of the response is visible within four to seven days.

Once you see the response, it is easy to calculate whether the response was sufficient to justify the cost. All you need to do is look at your milk check and see what you are being paid per pound of protein or SNF, and then calculate the return.

When you look at the potential benefits from amino acid balancing – lower CP level in your ration, better protein and energy efficiencies, improved milk production, improvement in butterfat and improved protein or SNF percent – it would seem like a fairly obvious approach to at least consider.

The fact that you will know within a few days what your response is, makes the decision even that much easier.

In difficult times we have to be more cerebral and innovative in all that we do. Whether amino acid balancing is right for you, only you can say. But it is an approach that deserves serious consideration. Visit with your nutritionist, do some figuring, and see if it might be something that would help your operation be more profitable. PD

References omitted due to space but are available upon request to .

PHOTO:The concept of amino acid balancing is to use ingredients that will raise the level of lysine and methionine in the blood and thereby increase production of milk protein. Photo by PD staff.

David O. Jensen is a nutritionist withIntermountain Farmers Association. Email David Jensen.