The canola plant was developed in the 1970s to capture the beneficial properties of rapeseed oil and meal – but also to remove the anti-nutritional factors that limited the use of rapeseed oil and meal by the food and livestock feeding industry. Since its introduction, canola meal has continued to improve.

Wood brittany
Director Canola Utilization / Canola Council of Canada
Brittany Dyck holds a Masters of Science degree in dairy nutrition from the University of Alberta...

The canola meal available in today’s market contains high-quality protein and minimal anti-nutritional components.

In the past several years, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, along with the Canola Council of Canada, has supported numerous research projects under the Canola Canadian Agri-Science Cluster, and this research continues to show that canola meal is ideally suited as a protein source for dairy cows.

In a recent survey of the U.S. dairy industry, nutritionists and farmers recognized that canola meal provided excellent nutritional value to lactating dairy cows, and performance results were generally higher than would be expected, based on formulation software. U.S. nutritionists were very pleased with the results they were seeing in cows being fed canola meal.

A similar survey of Canadian nutritionists also demonstrated a high degree of use of canola meal, with a general consensus that canola meal is a high-quality ingredient for dairy cattle.


However, Canadian nutritionists tended to use less canola meal than their U.S. counterparts and were more aware of some of the “growing pains” that took place while canola meal was being developed.

In an analysis of many studies, researchers at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada in Lennoxville, Quebec, found that, on average, canola meal supported 3.1 pounds more milk than all other vegetable proteins and 1.5 pounds more than soybean meal.

In the evaluations, the same total dietary protein percentages were compared. These results clearly indicated canola meal provided superior value to lactating dairy cows than other vegetable proteins.

In fact, additional research shows this is indeed the case. In the past, vegetable protein ingredients were compared on the basis of their percentage of protein and were usually compared with soybean meal. High-protein soybean meal supplies between 46 and 51 percent crude protein, while canola meal has 36 percent on an as-purchased basis. This comparison indicates that canola meal should be valued and priced below soybean meal.

But what if that is not the sole comparison we should be making? Percent protein does not translate to the amount of protein a cow can utilize for milk production. Table 1 notes rumen-undegraded protein (RUP) levels, the protein fraction that can have more direct impacts on milk production and quality.

comparison of the feeding value of canola meal to soybean meal

The proportion of RUP is much higher for canola meal than other ingredients. As a result, the amount of protein that gets past the rumen is almost the same for both canola meal and soybean meal.

Once the digestibility of the RUP fraction is considered for both, canola meal provides only slightly less total digestible RUP. But what about the digestibility of the RUP fraction?

This is higher, on average, for soybean meal. These results show that for each pound of dry matter, you can expect an average of 71 grams of digestible RUP with soybean meal and 70 grams of digestible RUP with canola meal.

In addition, the amino acid profile of canola meal is ideally suited for dairy cows, supplying substantial quantities of the two most often limiting amino acids, methionine and lysine.

A deeper protein comparison of canola meal and soybean meal is provided in Table 2. Canola meal actually provides more usable methionine than soybean meal. In addition, canola meal provides a substantial amount of lysine, just shy of soybean meal.

Comparison of amino acid supply

The Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada researchers mentioned above conducted an additional study, comparing canola meal with other proteins. This study investigated plasma amino acid supply – the source of amino acids for milk synthesis.

It found that canola meal increased plasma concentrations of amino acids to a greater extent than other vegetable protein meals. Increased plasma amino acids provide a good indication that these amino acids will travel to the mammary gland for milk synthesis.

Canola meal provides real value to dairy feed formulations, and the RUP levels and amino acid profiles need to be taken into account when assessing the value of any vegetable protein source.  end mark

Essi Evans is the president of Technical Advisory Services. Email Essi Evans.  

To learn more about the value of canola meal, visit the dairy feed calculator online (

Brittany Dyck is the canola meal manager with Canola Council of Canada. Email Brittany Dyck.