The talk of the town being the increase in price of soya, brings the great discussion topic, protein.

I’m sure some of you will have been tracking the soya markets almost as closely as the weather forecast in recent months and wondering; what is the outlook for this spring and summer going to be for bought in proteins?

Outside the global markets, there are a number of positive management changes we can put in place to help manage bought in feed costs, reduce waste and protect margins, as well as looking towards new research findings from Ireland using lower protein concentrates at grass.

Why are Protein prices likely to affect my business?

As protein prices on a global scale have increased this winter, we are looking at the potential for increased feed costs for the summer period. Proteins are no exception, and have seen significant increases in price this winter, and we need to be aware of these factors to protect margins at a farmgate level.

What can we do?

The positive news is that there are things each business can do to limit exposure to increased protein prices, especially as the grazing season approaches, and this starts with understanding the requirements of the cow.

Each herd has different targets and systems in place, and will therefore have differing nutritional requirements. In general, a cow does not have a requirement for soya, rapemeal or any other specific protein source, but instead she has a nutritional requirement for Metabolisable Protein.

To meet a cows Metabolisable Protein requirement we need to provide her with a diet containing Rumen Degradable Protein (RDP) and Digestible Undegradable Protein (DUP) also described as bypass protein. The key is then to provide the correct balance between RDP and DUP and understand how different feedstuffs help us meet this requirement.

The great news for spring grazing is that fresh grass is your herds most cost effective feedstuff and it provides a huge amount of RDP, but there are limits for each cow as to how much RDP she can utilise in the rumen. For this reason, we must be careful not to waste this valuable protein source, especially through supplementing with high protein, unbalanced bought in feedstuffs.

For grazed cows, especially following fertiliser applications, the levels of RDP in a cows daily ration can be excessive, and providing her with additional RDP from concentrate will result in losses. To avoid losses at the expense of both the environment and your wallet, we can actively look to provide a better nutritional balance for the cow.

We can do this by reducing the crude protein content of your bought in feed, provide her with more energy and look to supplement with bypass protein where this is limiting. The first step should be actively reducing RDP supplementation. Feedstuffs high in RDP and low in energy must be avoided if grass protein levels are high. Any Urea based concentrates at this time will be a negative to production; the cow simply does not require more RDP, the urea inclusion will provide no additional energy or bypass protein and instead will place additional stress on rumen function and protein metabolism.

For example, feeding a 24% crude protein grass, alongside an 18% crude protein concentrate could lead to a loss in milk yield of 2.5 litres/day, driven by an energy and protein imbalance in the rumen – inefficient use of protein.

By providing the cow with a nutritionally balanced ration at grass, we can achieve optimal utilisation of your home grown protein source, aid fertility and limit Nitrogen waste to the environment, which can be monitored by a trend in rising milk urea levels as well as cows being generally dirty from loose feaces.

Recent studies by University College Dublin and their Lyons Systems Herd have proven that low Crude Protein concentrates (12% and 14%) can be extremely effective in a grass and parlour concentrate system. They noted a 0.5 litre/cow/day increase in yields and a slight increase in milk solids for the cows fed the 14% parlour compound.

Based on a 150 cow herd, the benefit from improved protein efficiency paired with the cost saving between an 18% compound and a 14% crude protein compound is in the region of £950/month.

When should we start planning?

It is wise to start considering your spring turnout strategy as soon as possible, discussing your options and looking to monitor grass growth and quality in the run up to turnout. Any early planning will help to understand where efficiencies can be made and how best to utilise your home grown forage, including where any wholecrop or maize silage reserves can be used as a useful buffer this summer.

We cannot influence global commodity trading, but we can put in place measures to ensure we meet the nutritional needs of our cows this turnout. Take time to assess your options, the quality of product and the ingredients being offered and ultimately form a plan to achieve profitable, efficient milk production this summer.