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Innovative dairy feed benefits farmers and the environment

Innovative dairy feed benefits farmers and the environment

At a time when the farming industry is under increasing pressure to cost competitively feed a growing population, whilst reducing its impact on the environment, animal feed and rapeseed oil producer Yelo is revolutionising the way dairy feed is produced. Sarah Kidby spoke to product development director Dr Michael Marsden, from Trident Feeds, to find out more.

While it is fair to say that the farming sector faces significant challenges – not least the pressure to produce more food at the same time as cutting carbon emissions and chemical usage – the wealth of innovation in the industry suggests it is more than equal to the challenge.

The sustainable dairy cow feed NovaPro, launched by Yelo in February 2019, promises to increase milk yields at a lower cost to the farmer and the environment, thanks to a novel manufacturing process. The company, which recently hosted a tour of its state-of-the-art facility in Stratford-Upon-Avon, uses 100 per cent UK-grown oilseed rape in its manufacturing process, supporting British farmers and reducing food miles. 

Yelo says the need for a sustainable alternative to soya-based livestock feed is clear, with government figures showing soya imports to the UK totalled 3.1 million tonnes in 2015-16. Manufacturing dairy feed from a UK-grown crop would cut food miles by reducing the demand for imported soya, which reduces deforestation pressure. Improving feed efficiency could also improve milk yields and lower nitrogen losses.   

Pressure, not chemicals

Having decided early on that it would not use chemicals such as hexane solvent to extract the oil, Yelo’s facility uses mechanical presses to squeeze the oil from the rapeseed, creating a rape expeller, or ‘rape cake’. According to the company, it is the only industrial-scale hot press rape expeller in the country, with all other rapeseed-based rumen bypass products using hexane solvent-treated rape extract instead. This results in a lower-energy feed as the extract has approximately five percentage points less oil. The hexane recovery process, which requires additional heat, has been shown in published research to have a negative impact on the digestibility of protein, Dr Marsden said.

Improving production

In order to improve production, it is beneficial for a certain amount of the protein in dairy feed to bypass the rumen – one of the four stomachs present in ruminant animals – so it is more efficiently digested in the ‘true’ stomach and intestines. 

Technology is needed to force proteins to slip through the rumen undetected by microbes, so to convert the ‘rape cake’ into feed, Yelo uses a specific wood sugar liquid (Xylig), along with heat, moisture and time. These four parameters must be carefully balanced to optimise the amount of bypass protein and its subsequent digestion to avoid ‘total bypass’, where the protein passes straight through the body undigested. Yelo is the only feed processor in the UK using Xylig to treat rape protein, which the company says is superior for achieving rumen bypass, as its benign process is reversible after leaving the rumen and entering the stomach. Other processes using a large amount of heat, so less benign, cannot create the same proportion of post-rumen digestible bypass protein, Dr Marsden explained.

Bypassing the rumen

Describing the manufacturing process, Dr Marsden likened the rape cake to a ‘ball of wool’ – or a long strand wrapped around to form a ball. Wood sugar is applied, which interacts with the protein and twists the shape of the ball so that rumen microbes can no longer recognise it. As a result, it bypasses the rumen and heads straight to the true stomach, where natural stomach acids twist it back to its original shape and it can be digested. This, according to Yelo, creates a highly digestible feed that is virtually identical to soya in terms of the content of bypass protein.

Better yields, lower costs

A four-month dairy study at the University of Nottingham revealed that cows fed a NovaPro style diet each produced 1.7 litres more milk per day, compared to those fed a soya-based control diet. 

These findings support other scientific evidence that rape-based feeds offer higher milk yields. A meta-analysis of 49 different studies (Martineau et al, 2013) found that milk yield and dry matter intake generally improved with rape-based feeding regimes. The Yelo plant produces ‘expeller’ rapeseed feeds, which had a higher residual rapeseed oil component, increasing the metabolisable energy content of the feed by around 1MJ/kg compared to traditional solvent-extracted rapemeal.

Using recent feed and milk prices, Dr Marsden said the margin over purchased feed (MOPF) also improved on the NovaPro diet by 28p per cow per day. The feed is cheaper for the farmer than soya-based feeds, he added. Headline figures at the time of writing suggest it is around £50 cheaper per tonne, although this would depend on variable factors including the location of the farm and global soya and oilseed rape prices.


Yelo’s facility produces its own renewable heat and power using UK-sourced, low-grade biomass residues, which the company says makes it one of the UK’s most energy and carbon-efficient production sites. In addition, the wood sugar used in the process is a co-product from the wood pulping industry. For every tree used, another three are replanted. 

According to Dr Marsden, the environmental footprint of rape cake is “very favourable” compared to that of soya bean meal, having around 60-70 per cent of the impact of soya. It also addresses the majority of the 16 environmental impacts of livestock feed production, which are listed by the EU in their developing product environmental footprint methodology. This assessment is based on any-origin rape expeller compared to any-origin soya, so Yelo plans to produce its own assessment using the same methodology, specifically for NovaPro, once the plant is at capacity. The company anticipates that this will show an improved environmental footprint, as the rapeseed is locally sourced and sustainable woody biomass is used to fuel the boilers.

Adoption on farms

While soya has been viewed as the ‘gold standard’ for dairy feed, Yelo says attitudes are changing as scientific evidence highlights the benefits of alternative rape-based feeds. 

Metcalfe Farms, winner of the NMR RABDF Gold Cup in 2018, is among the early adopters of NovaPro, and is now using a ratio of two thirds NovaPro to one third soya. The 525ha dairy farm, based in Leyburn in North Yorkshire, comprises 1,300 pedigree Holsteins.

Philip Metcalfe, who runs the farm with his brothers Brian and David, said: “NovaPro has given us an opportunity to reduce our soya footprint and adopt a homegrown source of protein and energy. We started integrating it about four months ago and are gradually reducing our hipro soya inclusion.”

KW nutritionist Dr Anna Sutcliffe, who is overseeing the reformulation of the ration and cow performance added: “NovaPro has cost-effectively replaced hipro soya in the ration maintaining milk yield and constituents to expectation. We are also seeing reduced milk urea levels indicating improved nitrogen efficiency.”

Yelo CEO Kevin Ball comments: “We are proud to be championing UK farming and developing higher value products from homegrown rapeseed. We are very excited about NovaPro, seeing farm evidence of it successfully replacing soya in dairy rations. 

“Furthermore, while we are focusing on reducing our footprint, with a carbon efficient operation, we are producing a protein feed that, in turn, helps the dairy sector improve its nitrogen efficiency.”

  • Written by: Farmers Guide
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