If you’re like most of us, you occasionally bake a frozen, self-rising pizza from the grocery store. The “self-rising” crust is made possible by an encapsulated leavening system. Now the same innovative technology can be at work in your ration to bolster herd performance.

On the dairy, encapsulation protects nutrients until they reach the place in the cow’s GI tract where they can deliver the most benefit. Examples include rumen-protected lysine for superior amino acid balancing, choline for better energy status and niacin for heat stress management.

Rumen-protected lysine, for example, introduced a breakthrough in amino acid balancing in the fall of 2008. Unprotected lysine degrades in the rumen. Encapsulated lysine, however, reaches the small intestine intact, ready for absorption and able to raise the ration’s protein quality. As a result, less crude protein can be fed for a cost savings, production levels remain the same or increase and less nitrogen is excreted into the environment.

Encapsulation simply means that a nutrient is coated with protective layers. But not all encapsulation processes or encapsulated products are equal. The coating needs to provide three important functions: stability, protection and bioavailability. The encapsulate needs to provide stability of the nutrient during storage, for example in a moist feed and at adverse temperature ranges. When consumed by the ruminant, it needs to protect the nutrient from degradation by rumen microbes, and finally, the coating needs to release the nutrient for absorption in the small intestine, providing high bioavailability.

Rumen protection

Encapsulation’s breakthrough is its ability to allow the targeted delivery of nutrients consistently and efficiently. The benefit of encapsulation protection was demonstrated in an in vitro study at the West Virginia Rumen Profiling Lab. It compared unprotected raw niacin to an encapsulated niacin product. After 24 hours of ruminal incubation, 94 percent of the unprotected niacin was broken down in the rumen, resulting in only a 6 percent rumen bypass value. In contrast, only 11 percent of the encapsulated product was broken down, resulting in an 89 percent rumen bypass value.


Although rumen microbes can synthesize many nutrients in amounts necessary to meet maintenance and modest milk production demands, these amounts are generally not sufficient to meet the needs of today’s high-producing dairy cows. Simply feeding large amounts of a nutrient does not ensure a significant increase in the delivery of that nutrient to the small intestine. In addition, this approach is generally expensive and not environmentally friendly. In comparison, encapsulation allows nutrients to be delivered effectively at a lower cost.


The encapsulate needs to provide nutrient stability during transportation and storage to remain effective. When a poor-quality encapsulate is included in a mineral mix or a finished feed for several weeks, moisture in the feed can slowly migrate through its coating and begin to dissolve the nutrient. This can lead to coating instability and result in poor ruminal protection. A high-quality encapsulate should provide proven stability under typical storage conditions.

Another important feature for lipid-coated encapsulates is tolerance for cool (less than 40˚F) and freezing temperatures. Even when a product is handled and stored properly, it will be subjected to environments in many parts of the world where freezing and thawing occur. Under these conditions, some lipid-based coatings can undergo detrimental changes, resulting in the development of cracks in the coating, which subsequently will result in poor ruminal stability and protection. To ensure delivery of the nutrient to the small intestine, an encapsulate should be designed to withstand cool temperatures and freeze/thaw cycles to maintain the feed and rumen stability characteristics of the product.


When consumed, the coating needs to protect the nutrient for 12 hours and sometimes longer in the rumen. As with feed stability, an encapsulate should provide excellent protection in the rumen, which translates to a product with a very high rumen bypass value.


Once the encapsulate bypasses the rumen, the coating typically needs to release the nutrient in the small intestine for absorption. Simply demonstrating rumen stability does not ensure intestinal release and absorption. Unfortunately, many people confuse rumen bypass with bioavailability when in fact, bioavailability is a combination of rumen bypass and intestinal absorption.

When evaluating encapsulated products, be sure to carefully examine the research data. Be sure the research results report actual nutrient bioavailability, not just the rumen bypass value. For example, a product may have a high rumen bypass value of say 90 percent, but only have an intestinal digestibility of say 40 percent. The resulting bioavailability value would then be 36 percent (90 percent X 40 percent = 36 percent). Conversely, another product may have a rumen bypass value of 60 percent, but also have an intestinal digestibility of 60 percent. In this example, the resulting bioavailability value would also be 36 percent.

Another important concept to understand when determining bioavailability is to know the actual content of active nutrient in the encapsulated product and to account for any other compounds that may be bound to the nutrient. For example, lysine and choline exist in the form of choline hydrochloride or lysine hydrochloride, and, as a result, the chloride content of the molecule must be accounted for. Lysine hydrochloride is 20 percent chloride and 80 percent lysine, which means that an encapsulated product may contain 50 percent lysine hydrochloride, but the actual lysine content is only 40 percent. This is the value that must then be used to calculate the amount of bioavailable nutrient.

For example, let’s assume an encapsulated product contains 40 percent actual lysine (50 percent lysine hydrochloride), has a 70 percent rumen bypass value and has an intestinal digestibility of 60 percent. To determine the actual content of metabolizable lysine (actual lysine absorbed in the small intestine and available for use by the cow), you must multiply the lysine content (40 percent) x the rumen bypass value (70 percent) x the intestinal digestibility value (60 percent), which equates to a 16.8 percent metabolizable lysine content. As a result, for every 10 grams of product fed, 1.68 grams of metabolizable lysine is provided. The importance of this process cannot be underestimated because large price variations exist among products.

To fairly and effectively compare one product to another, comparisons must be made on a cost-per-gram-of- metabolizable-nutrient basis. Otherwise one product may appear to be significantly more expensive on a cost-per-ton-of-product basis when in fact it is actually less expensive when the amount of metabolizable nutrient provided is taken into account.


Proper encapsulation protects a nutrient until it is released in the gastrointestinal tract at the site where it provides the greatest benefit to the animal. As several encapsulation technologies exist, knowing the differences among them and understanding the corresponding research data helps simplify purchasing decisions.

High-quality encapsulated products are stable under normal storage and feeding conditions, provide a high level of rumen bypass and are highly digestible in the small intestine. They require extensive research and development, including research to determine the bioavailability of the product in the animal. Being aware of the differences among encapsulated processes and products can help you make the right decisions to better your herd, just as knowing the differences among frozen pizzas will help make you more popular. PD

Ryan Ordway
  • Ryan Ordway

  • Northeast Technical Services Specialist
  • Balchem Animal Nutrition & Health
  • Email Ryan Ordway