Efficiency in the cow barn

Milk is a valuable food. Improving production methods is the only way to meet the growing worldwide demand in the long term. One of the keys to this is optimizing the balance of amino acids in the feed of dairy cows. The use of Mepron® makes this possible.

In the United States, sales of Greek yogurt are booming. In China and Japan, schoolchildren have also been eating cornflakes with milk for a long time. And no German breakfast table is complete without milky coffee and muesli. Milk is part of a healthy diet for growing numbers of people. For good reason: Cow's milk is considered a particularly valuable source of protein.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), it contains all essential amino acids that the human body needs in a balanced ratio. It also helps to meet the body's need for minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well as for B vitamins. In over 40 countries around the world, it is therefore recommended that milk products should be consumed regularly, also by adults. Most recommendations are in the range of one to two  glasses of milk per day.

Aside from population growth, rising affluence and changing dietary habits in particular are increasing the consumption of milk and dairy products in many countries. On average worldwide, annual per-capita consumption is about 105 kilograms of milk equivalents, while in the United States it is about 270 kilograms. The FAO expects consumption to rise over the next few years, particularly in emerging countries.

More efficient milk production

Milk production, which is currently at around 750 million metric tons per year, is therefore expected to continue growing. The options are either to keep higher numbers of dairy cows or to increase the amount of milk that the individual animals produce. "For economic and environmental reasons it would be preferable to achieve this by raising the cows' milk output rather than by enlarging the dairy herds,2 says Dr. Winfried Heimbeck, product manager at Evonik. More cows would require significantly greater resources, such as agricultural space and water, both of which are in limited supply.

However, animal output still varies considerably. For example, a cow in India gives around 1,500 kilograms of milk on average per year, whereas a cow in the United States produces 10,000 kilograms. Evonik expert Heimbeck explains how this productivity gap could be closed, at least in part: 2Generally speaking, the conditions under which the animals are kept need to be improved. These include good veterinary care, sufficient water, and of course high-quality feed.2

Provision of the important amino acid methionine is crucial for the last of these. Methionine is one of what are called essential amino acids, which people and animals must ingest with their food. From these components all living creatures form the proteins their bodies need. A problem arises when one single amino acid is missing, as the others cannot be utilized either. In the case of dairy cows, it is mostly the methionine in the feed that is the limiting factor for the utilization of the feed protein—and thus for milk production.

While farmers traditionally enrich feed rations with protein sources such as rapeseed or soybeans a, precise doses of individual amino acids are not added. As a result, cows frequently absorb too little methionine to be able to use other amino acids. These are excreted unutilized, placing a burden on the animals' metabolism and leading to more nitrogen being excreted into the environment.

Methionine instead of too much protein

Through targeted use of Mepron®, a form of the amino acid DLmethionine specially developed for ruminants, it is possible to reduce the protein intake with the feed substantially. The special product form of Mepron® allows that the methionine is mostly released in the small intestine, where it can be absorbed so that it is available in particular for the production of milk protein. In an unprotected form, the methionine would be broken down by microorganisms in the rumen.

This allows the protein content in feed rations for dairy cows to be reduced by around ten percent. Farmers thus save on feed costs without incurring any loss in performance. Pressure is taken off the cow's liver and metabolism because less surplus of protein has to be metabolized and excreted. Plus, there are multiple benefits for the environment because less acreage is needed for rapeseed or soybeans and the cow excretes 15 to 20 percent less nitrogen.

To enable farmers to put together the ideal feed, Evonik provides them or the individuals providing the animal feeding advice not only with the Mepron® product in the form of mini-pellets, but also with an extensive collection of data on the amino acid content of a wide variety of feed materials (AMINODat®) and a program for calculating the optimum composition of the ration taking all ten essential amino acids into account (AMINOCow®).

For pigs and poultry, the use of several amino acids in feed is the worldwide standard. Here, Evonik has set the benchmark with its products, services and life-cycle analysis studies. For ruminants, with their complex digestive system, methionine has proven to be the most successful.

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