The Superbowl is almost here – can you taste it? Oh, wait; we haven’t made the party assignments – who is bringing cheese dip, hot dogs, chicken wings and those mini-wieners in BBQ sauce? After all, it’s not a party without the protein. Without protein we’d have to call it just a rowdy garden soirée – and who has time to figure out how to say that with a mouthful of crackers, salami and squirt-cheese?

Jaynes lynn
Managing Editor / Ag Proud – Idaho

Well, here’s news – your cow wants protein in her feedbunk party, too. Furthermore, while you may not necessarily have high-quality limits on your personal intake (pre-pressed chicken nuggets, for instance – really?), your cow has standards. Her protein must meet these requirements:

  • It must be high quality in terms of amino acids, digestibility and bypass levels.
  • It must not depress feed intake and must not affect the rumen dynamics, in terms of degradability or organic matter, or in terms of microbial protein synthesis.
  • It must complement the amino acid profile provided by other feed sources.
  • It must be economical.

So in plain lingo, that means the protein you provide has to be the type of protein she needs, has to taste good, cannot mess up the balance of other feeds causing something akin to indigestion, and has to be affordable.

Blood meal

Let’s talk about possible protein sources to bring to your cow’s feedbunk party. A lot of dairymen use blood meal in the cows’ ration. It’s extremely high in protein (87 percent, as expressed on a dry matter basis) and has bypass or rumen undegradable protein (lysine) of over 80 percent. This makes it very popular in a corn-based feeding program. However, some dairy farmers say if you put over half a pound into a ration, the cows will eat less dry matter, as it affects palatability.

There are differing quality levels in blood meal too, as it can be damaged in the drying process. While most of the U.S. supply appears as good quality, it’s still a point to review with your provider.


Pork or poultry meat and bone meal

Meat and bone meal is a product slightly lower than blood meal in protein, at 54 percent, but has very nice bypass value. It also brings more value to the party by adding 14 percent fat, 12 percent calcium and 6 percent phosphorous. Therefore, the ration can be adjusted to accommodate these value-added components. (Like bringing chips to the party, with dip!)

There is, however, more variation in quality with meat and bone meal as compared to blood meal. It’s worth spending time with your supplier to make sure you understand what is being provided so you don’t overestimate or underestimate its value in the ration. In addition, only non-ruminant meat and bone meal can be fed to dairy cattle (relating to a problem with BSE or “mad cow” disease).

Another side effect of meat and bone meal is the smell. Hoo-lee-buckets, it can stink – and your cows know it. The good news, for you, is that it’s very economical – sometimes costing only half as much as other nutrients (and that’s a score at any party).

Fish meal

Researchers commonly refer to fish meal as marine protein. Your kids may call it fish bones, because bones are actually in it. It contains pretty much all parts of the fish that you and I don’t eat. It also has a favorable protein profile plus fish oil, and also carries significant amounts of calcium and phosphorous.

But let’s be honest, it smells fishy. Therefore, because of decreased palatability, quantity has to be managed as not to depress feed intake. The fish oil content can also be tough on rumen microbes, affecting rumen fiber digestibility and rumen volatile fatty acid patterns. Fish meal varies in oil content – some as low as 3 or 4 percent, and others as high as 12 to 14 percent – so it’s important to know the percentage in your fish meal. The guideline is about 50 or 60 grams of fish oil as a maximum level to avoid problems.

All fish products are not equal. Quality and bypass characteristics vary in fish meal and depend upon how much degradation occurs before the drying process. As a rule, it’s a good source of undegradable protein and has a good source of lysine.

Corn distillers grain

Protein percentage and bypass rate in corn distillers grains are not as high as blood, bone and fish meal; however, these certainly don’t disqualify corn distillers grains as an additional source of protein. Oil content will vary depending on the processing used and can range from 1 or 2 percent up to 10 or 12 percent. The higher oil content here has more value, improves palatability, can lower fiber digestion and reduces dust. It’s also a very good source of phosphorous (varying from plant to plant). And cows like it. Corn distillers grains can be economical, depending on the market in any given year.

Again, quality will vary with this protein source. If this product is very dark brown or black like coffee, then there has likely been some heat damage, which will decrease digestibility and destroy some key amino acids. Good corn distillers grain should be light brown or almost tan colored.

Brewers’ grain

This brewers’ byproduct varies in protein depending on how much barley, rice and other grains were used in making the brew. It’s bypass characteristic is around 47 percent. It has some oil in it and adds phosphorous, which are both helpful to the mix. When it’s wet and fresh, it’s very palatable and has sometimes been referred to as "poor man’s corn silage."

Dried brewers’ grain is very dusty and difficult to handle, and a lot of dairy farmers steer clear of it for this reason. In summer, it’s helpful to have wet brewers’ grains bagged, which can hold it for as much as six months and minimize degradation.

Brewers’ grain is handled differently, so it’s important to know what you’re paying for. If it’s pressed, another 10 percent (more or less) of moisture can be removed, impacting dry matter content. It’s important to know exactly what you’re feeding so the ration can be adjusted accordingly.


While soybeans are not a byproduct feed, it is a good source of protein for dairy cows. Protein content can be up in the 40-percent range. When effectively heat-treated, soybean rumen undegradable protein can be increased to as much as 60 to 70 percent. Effective heat treatment should result in a bean that has a brownish color and tastes like a peanut. Soybeans are also a good source of oil (19-percent range) and also provide phosphorous in a diet.

Ration planning

I’ve never planned a party yet that hasn’t had a hitch somewhere – there’s always somebody who doesn’t show up with their food assignment but still thinks it’s okay to bring a few extra mouths with them. So there are always adjustments to be made. The same is true with your cow’s diet. The adjustments to be made will still depend on what products are available, what they cost, what the budget is and how it fits with the other feeds. But don’t rule out different sources just because you’ve always used something else. There are options available.

And all this talk of protein is making me hungry. By the way, my invitation to your Superbowl party hasn’t come yet. Should I bring chips and dip? Was the invitation lost in the mail? Also, I thought I’d bring my son-in-law and nephew too, just so you know. PD