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Web Tool: Protein calculator provides a breakeven cost-comparison

PD Editor Karen Lee Published on 09 August 2013


If you’re considering canola, there’s a new tool that can help you calculate if it’s the right option for your dairy.



Dr. Essi Evans, a researcher and nutritionist with Technical Services Advisory, says the canola meal calculator is a Web-based tool designed to compare the feeding value of canola and other protein ingredients relative to your choice of an available protein source.

It can be found at the Canola Council of Canada website .

The calculator was developed when the Canola Council of Canada found there was no consistent means of assessing the value of a protein ingredient from nutritionist to nutritionist.

“Some nutritionists based purchasing decisions on cost per unit of protein; some based the decision on cost relative to soybean meal; others evaluated cost on the basis of the metabolizable protein that the meals provided.

Scroll down to view additional screen shots from the web tool.


Few considered the contribution of other nutrients, such as phosphorus or energy,” Evans says.

Barry Visser, a nutritionist with Vita Plus Corporation, has used the calculator several times. He first stumbled upon it while searching on the Internet for such a tool. He says he finds it to be a simple approach in comparing major proteins.

The calculator computes the relative feeding value based upon metabolizable protein, soluble protein, energy and phosphorus.

It uses common ingredients as sources of these nutrients and computes the nutritional worth. Thus, it helps purchasers of various protein meals make informed decisions based on quantitative information.

Using ingredient profiles from published tables (NRC 2001), and not altered in any way, a value is assessed for each nutrient and adjusted based on the protein selected.

Visser says the calculator is especially handy when he’s on-farm.


With the use of his iPad, he can pull it up and do a quick comparison with the farmer. So far, he has used it to compare soybean meal and distillers grains to canola.

Figure 1

Selecting the comparables is the first step of the calculator’s four-step process.

(See Figure 1 .)

Users can choose a familiar source of protein, along with another source to which they would like to compare it.

Canola meal is preset as the first comparable.

“The user is not limited in evaluations and can even input data for an ingredient not listed,” Evans says.

An unknown ingredient is simply selected as Ingredient 1, 2 or 3 from the drop-down menu in Step 1. The user then needs to supply the values for the new ingredient in Step 2.

Figure 2

The second step (see Figure 2 ) allows users to modify nutrient specifications for any of the selected proteins.

Since all of the default values were obtained from NRC guidelines, this step allows for the inclusion of local differences in ingredients.

Visser likes that you can adjust the nutrient profile. “The canola I’ve seen has more protein this year,” he says.

The default for the program is 41 percent crude protein, but he’s seen it as high as 43.5 percent. “That two points can make a difference,” he adds.

He has found the protein percentage of soybean meal to be different than the values in the program. “I like having the ability to adjust those numbers to different geographies,” he says.

“It’s fairly user-friendly,” Visser adds. “You don’t have to know a lot of information to use it. You just need to know the price of the major proteins you want to compare, as well as the price per hundredweight of calcium and phosphorus.”

Figure 3

Those prices are entered in Step 3. (See Figure 3 .)

Visser cautions that input prices should be in the right ballpark to get the best results possible.

According to Evans, the values from nutrients within ingredients are triangulated using the FeedVal 4 system developed by the University of Wisconsin.

Much like a Pearson Square assigns values for protein and energy, the FeedVal 4 system assesses the value of protein from blood meal, the value of soluble protein from urea, the value of net energy from corn and then the value of phosphorus from dicalcium phosphate (the contribution of the calcium is taken into account by the limestone).

Once the nutrient values are computed, they are prorated to the control protein being used.

Figure 4

The final step of the calculator provides a breakeven cost-comparison of each comparable protein.

In Figure 4 , when the price of soybean meal is $463.30 per ton, linseed meal is a good purchase when the value is $379.73 per ton or less.

As well, the user could pay up to $392.61 as a substitute for soybean meal and come out ahead.

“I’m a huge fan of canola in general,” Visser says, especially in high-corn silage rations. This calculator is a quick initial method of canola conversion, which enables him to show a producer the potential benefits of switching proteins.

However, before he makes any final advisements, he will use his ration-balancing program to find the complete contribution the protein change would bring to the entire diet.

It’s not just a protein-for-protein change, he says. Canola is slightly different in its mineral contributions, especially calcium and phosphorus, so it helps to run the full comparison on the diet you are feeding.

In many cases, a protein comparison is worth doing. “We’re at a point in our industry where margins are as close as they’ve ever been. If we can save 10 cents a cow by making a change, that’s a lot of dollars at the end of the year,” he says. PD


Karen Lee
Progressive Dairyman