Amino Acids An Emerging Technology

Published on Fri, 11/18/2016 - 10:52am

By Kip Karges PH.D., Director of Tech Services Animal Health & Nutrtion


Producers of dairy animal proteins are constantly seeking ways to increase income over feed cost while maximizing production of milk quantity and components. Nutritionists and veterinarians continually strive to find solutions that benefit both the producer and the animal. Limiting total crude protein but balancing for digestible and amino acids (AA) is an emerging technology to help production responses and dairy farm profitability. Designing ideal delivery of nutrients to the dairy herd is a new tool in this ongoing effort.

Over the years the understanding of protein in dairy diets has advanced from simply formulating 16% or 18% Crude Protein in diets to recently understanding and incorporating the Metabolizable Protein system. We have learned that crude protein values of feed ingredients reflect the nitrogen content and nothing more.  Balancing for Crude protein in feedstuffs reveals nothing about the type of protein or its value to the rumen microorganisms, or if any nutrients escape rumen degradation. 

Historically, feed ingredients such as blood meal, fishmeal, and soybean meal have provided to some degree a supplemental level of amino acids such as lysine and methionine to attempt to meet the animal’s needs pending on the formulation of the diet. But variability, cost and lack of being able to feed enough of these ingredients has limited the ability of nutritionists to balance for amino acids.

Responses to supplementation with lysine or methionine (where both are protected in some manner from ruminal degradation) have been extensive and well documented.  The most basic and commonly accepted benefit is generally thought to be in terms of improvements in milk volume and milk components.  Other documented benefits include improvements in reproduction, embryo survivability, offset of oxidative stress during transition periods and potentially reducing heat stress effects. Economically, opportunities beyond milk volume and components have been noted through the reduction of overall crude protein levels in the lactating diet when AA’s are properly balanced improving income over feed costs. 

Half a decade ago a new technology (encapsulation) burst on the industry that allowed for specific Amino Acids to be “protected” from being destroyed in the rumen. Researchers developed a shell or coating from fatty acids which naturally bypass the rumen, resistant to the rumen bugs, therefore allowing whatever was inside the shell to bypass the rumen and then be digested in the abomasum and small intestine. By encapsulating specific Amino Acids they ensured that the animal would benefit from much smaller quantities of Amino Acids, yet guaranteed to be delivered exactly where they would be most efficiently metabolized.

With the advent of “synthetic” or manufactured amino acid sources available today, specific amino acid nutrition can be delivered during periods of high production in today’s dairy cows.  This precision nutrition has simplified ration formulation from a nutritionist’s perspective.  This new technology allows protection of the targeted AA’s from rumen degradation resulting in direct delivery of AA’s to the small intestine for absorption. Research has shown that with traditional rations and products the amino acid supply may look ideal on paper, but the cows will respond to an increase in synthetic amino acids. Milk is usually the first response followed by components.

Recent university studies indicate that managing the delivery of amino acids can add value in dairy herd rations, particularly lysine and methionine.  Today, individual AA supplementation with the use of Rumen Protected Amino Acid (RPAA) technology is becoming the norm for high yielding dairy cattle to maintain production while reducing feed inputs and lowering the impact on the environment and optimizing the bottom line for a producer.

Why is this important?  For years both in poultry and swine industries the balancing for individual AA has been common practice.  It has increased animal performance with an improvement in feed conversion efficiency.  It has also allowed the reduction of feeding of excess nitrogen containing products (e.g. Protein) and thereby the reduction of nitrogen loading into the environment.  By formulating to individual digestible AA needs the modern dairy cow of high genetic potential can merit these same performance improvements seen in monogastrics.

As with most other nutritional tools, there are numerous products that are sold under the description of RPAA.  Additionally, as with other nutrient sources, RPAA’s vary in the actually technology used in the manufacturing process.  In this case the variation is found in how each product actually provides rumen protection.  In general, this protection is provided by the AA in question being combined, through very specific processes, with compounds that are resistant to microbial effects in the rumen. These technologies include polymer coatings, fat coatings, fat matrixes and so on with each product and the producing company having a proprietary process in place used for manufacture. The various coatings and compositions affect how well the AA’s avoid ruminal effects as well as how the AA’s are released in the small intestine for absorption. The correct combination of components that results in a precise response in the rumen and then the intestine can be difficult to achieve.  The products that are believed to work the best are those that deliver the AA of choice through the rumen while minimizing its losses to rumen degradation but yet release the highest payload of AA that is needed to be delivered to the small intestine; and achieve these results for the best possible cost (cost per unit of deliverable AA).

An example of a commercial product delivering these benefits would be the H.J. Baker (H.J. Baker & Bro. Inc., Little Rock, AR) dairy product Metabolys. H.J. Baker utilized a long chain fatty acid to coat Lysine (Lys-sulfate) and Methionine prills, the two primary limiting Amino Acids for protein production in cattle. The encapsulated products successfully proved to bypass the rumen, increased animal performance, and enhanced nutrient flow. As the encapsulation allows specific delivery of Amino Acids, producers can decrease overall crude protein levels fed decreasing cost and increasing ROI. HJ Baker suggests that dairy producers, nutritionists and veterinarians select RPAA products based on cost per unit of metabolizable lysine. They recommend evaluating the cost per ton in conjunction with the percentage of dietary lysine absorbed to understand the true cost of the product. HJ Baker suggests that on a cost per gram, MetaboLys, a product that derives its lysine from lysine sulphate, is the most cost effective protected lysine source. The Director of Technical Service for HJ Baker, Dr. Kip Karges, provides more insight.

“Amino acid nutrition has been heavily researched for many decades now,” Karges said. “The cumulative results of this research have now identified known requirements for key amino acids. These requirements are today being balanced for dairy cow diets and are having a direct impact on milk performance and milk component parameters.” Also understanding these key nutrient requirements allows dairymen to manage herds for a higher production output with lower gross feed inputs, all through the power of nutrition.  He added, “As nutrition research unlocks more key nutrients that have obvious benefits in performance, the industry is entering yet a new phase of getting more nutrition out of less nutrients that go into the cow. This will continue to impact not only milk performance, but also reproductive performance as well as reducing environmental challenges stemming from the over feeding of crude protein in dairy diets thus helping to reduce nitrogen output from the cow.” By using these precision ingredients, producers will be able to custom tailor a nutrition program to suit their specific genetics and certain deficiencies that exist for particular dairy farms based on their specific available feedstuffs.

 “Suppliers should be able to provide this type of information about their products, allowing for the precision formulation that needs to happen with rations,” Karges says. “In addition, it can sometimes be challenging for the nutritionists to push themselves out of their comfort zone using the MP protein system to learn more about amino acid nutrition as well as the different ration balancing dairy platform programs that exist on the market today.”

In the past various research institutions have clearly documented the benefits of bypass Amino Acid supplementation in growing beef cattle using bypass protein feedstuffs such as blood meal or soybean meal. Very recently beef stocker nutrition is moving to utilize the MP system combined with encapsulated Amino Acids technology in a new approach to improve performance of young growing beef cattle. In 2014 HJ Baker conducted a field trial in a tightly controlled and carefully managed stocker cattle operation, introducing an encapsulated source of Lysine called Safegain. Approximately 1800 head of cattle were used in the study. Results of this trial were somewhat startling, and presented at the 2016 Oklahoma Cattleman’s College hosted by the Oklahoma Cattleman’s Association. The primary take home message was that the stockers fed with the encapsulated product, showed over 50% ROI.  The cattle performed exponentially, with increased feed conversion and greater average daily gain (ADG). (Trial summary noted on Page 6).

HJ Baker, pleased with field trail results, then chose to conduct a dose titration test with SafeGain determining the exact dose needed for beef stockers. In 2015 HJ Baker conducted a full research trial at K-State using almost 500 head of cattle. Results were presented at the 2015 Kansas State University Agricultural Experiment Station and Cooperative Extension Service Cattlemen's Day 2015 as well as being presented at the National Animal Science Meetings in Salt Lake City, Utah in 2016. From the trial summary: “Average daily feed intake decreased linearly (P = 0.04) with each incremental addition of SafeGain, decreasing by nearly 4% with the highest concentration of SafeGain when compared to the Control group with no SafeGain. In spite of the decreased feed intake, average daily gain improved linearly with addition of SafeGain (P = 0.05). Feed efficiency also improved linearly (P < 0.0001) with increased SafeGain levels in the diet resulting in 0.5 lb. improvement in feed conversion.” Depending on ration cost this documented improvement in feed conversion could easily translate into significant feed cost savings based on rate of gain and feed conversion rates. This data is summarized in the Kansas State Cattlemen’s day report (Ruminally-Protected Lysine (SafeGain) Improves Performance of Growing Beef Cattle.