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Here’s the Benefit of Feeding a High Protein Diet During Early Lactation

Anna-Lisa Laca

January 14, 2021

Researchers at the Ohio State University recently completed a study evaluating how dietary protein and amino acid supplementation influenced milk production during the first three to four weeks of lactation.

The forage in the diets was a blend of 68% corn silage and 32% alfalfa. Beyond that three rations were formulated. The control diet, called CONT in the study, contained 17% crude protein (CP) and the source was mostly corn grain and soybean mean. The second diet called SOY in the study, contained 20% CP with the additional protein coming from soybean meal. The third diet called BLEND in the study, also contained 20% CP but the additional protein was derived from a blend of soybean meal, treated canola meal, corn gluten meal and rumen protected amino acids with a profile formulated to mimic casein.

“When we increased CP in SOY and BLEND, we removed some corn grain and soybean hulls,” Dr. Bill Weiss, an animal science professor at The Ohio State University wrote in the study’s abstract.

Additionally, all diets contained supplemental methionine from a rumen protected source. The cows were fed the treatment diets starting immediately after calving and continued until 25 days in milk, at which time all cows were switched to a typical high cow diet until 92 days in milk.


Researches evaluated the diet effects on both first lactation animals and older cows.

The major findings were:

  • Both first lactation and older animals consumed more dry matter during the first 25 days of lactation when fed BLEND compared to the SOY.

  • Feeding 20% CP in the fresh period increased energy corrected milk (ECM) for all cows compared to CONT, but source of the extra protein did matter.

“During the carryover period (all cows were fed the same diet), first lactation cows that were fed the 20% CP during the fresh period produced similar amounts of ECM as cows fed CONT during the fresh period,” the researchers say. “For mature cows, feeding the SOY treatment may have reduced ECM yield during carryover, whereas feeding the BLEND increased ECM during carry over period.”

The bottom line is that feeding a high protein diet (20% CP) with a good balance of amino acids for the first 25 days of lactation results in more ECM during the first 92 days of lactation than feeding a 20% protein diet not balanced for amino acids or feeding a diet with 17% CP during the fresh period, the researchers note. Additionally, in first lactation cows, fresh cow treatment did not have significant effects on ECM yields across the first 92 days in milk.


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