How to navigate the protein challenge in dairy and beef systems

Tightening global supplies of soya and grain coupled with large purchases by China has driven soya prices up to a margin-compromising point. And there is every chance the peak prices are set to continue for the remainder of the winter feeding season and even beyond, according to Alltech.

UK spot prices recently hit a wincing £450 per tonne delivered — about £50 per tonne up on prices pre-Christmas — bringing into question the return on investment of feeding soya to drive production profitability.

China is demanding around 60 per cent of global production. It seeks to rebuild its swine herd post-African Swine Fever (ASF) and is also experiencing low grain inventories after a year of severe flooding. The US has experienced a poor growing season and is falling short of demand, so will very likely hold onto their limited supplies. These factors, coupled with uncertainties arising from global politics and the pandemic, make for a ‘perfect storm’ that gives us reason to believe soya prices will remain high and volatile, Alltech experts say.

Environmental pressures set to increase

Building on these economic challenges, we see growing pressure to source a more environmentally friendly protein feed.

In ruminant production systems, 75–95 per cent of dietary nitrogen is excreted in urine or manure; a common cause being fluctuating ammonia levels in the rumen. Excess levels are both wasteful and potentially toxic, as they can lead to elevated blood urea nitrogen (BUN) levels and, subsequently, milk urea nitrogen (MUN) levels. On the other hand, when there is a deficit of rumen ammonia for a considerable amount of time, the rumen bacteria do not have access to this food source required for growth. As a result, productivity slows down.

Ensuring cows get the most out of the protein they consume is an essential step in overcoming this agri-food sustainability challenge.

5 tactical steps to become more protein efficient:

The good news is that there are short-term steps that farmers can take to help reduce waste, lower purchase costs and even move away from soya on a more permanent basis:

  1. Assess the quality and return of the current protein and explore alternative sources.
  2. Get a feed analysis and explore reducing the protein content of diets fed to lower yielders.
  3. Ensure precision feeding, incorporating the exact ingredient amounts prescribed.
  4. Feed a live yeast such as Alltech’s Yea-Sacc to encourage digestion in the rumen and optimise feed efficiency.
  5. Introduce Alltech’s Optigen as a highly effective protein source that also facilitates better utilisation of homegrown forages.

Looking longer-term, producers can increase natural protein levels in homegrown forage through clover grass and sulphur fertiliser. Clover is a legume that can ‘fix’ atmospheric nitrogen into a crude protein, while sulphur is essential for forming plant proteins and amino acids.

The features and benefits of Optigen:

The Carbon Trust has validated that the replacement of high-carbon ingredients (such as soya) with Optigen significantly reduces the risk of a high carbon footprint, without affecting (and in some cases, positively affecting) animal performance.

Features Benefits
Microscopic particles of non-protein nitrogen (NPN) embedded throughout the fat matrix. A controlled release of NPN to the rumen over time, meaning the nitrogen needs of rumen microbes are met more effectively. This leads to more efficient use of dietary nitrogen.
A high protein density (100 grams of Optigen is equivalent to 750 grams soya).


Makes space for other ingredients such as fibre, energy and homegrown forage in the ration for cows to consume.
A soluble crude protein consistent in size, composition and physical form. Promotes fibre digestion in the rumen and helps increase butterfat percentage.
Provided in 25-kilogram bags within three working days of ordering. A quick introduction and ease of use and storage.


Alltech’s advisors are specially trained and equipped to provide independent advice on feed sourcing, diet formulations and holistic nutrition management. Alltech Navigate is now available as a contactless service, and its InTouch system of cloud-based technology facilitates remote feed monitoring. To speak to a specialist, call the InTouch hub on 0800 587 3297.


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