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Investigating Dairy Feed: Climate, Cost, and Regional Sourcing

The Netherlands is a European pioneer in using local vegetables and food sector byproducts into dairy cow diets. Every month, the local dairy sector makes greater success in this area, and other nations such as Germany are keeping a careful eye on it.

However, the issue is complicated, according to Dr Wilfried van Straalen of Wageningen University’s Schothorst Feed Research.

What do dairy cows consume now in the Netherlands, and why?

“Cattle feed is primarily byproducts of grain or oil seed processing, with palm expeller meal imported from Indonesia and Malaysia being a common ingredient,” Van Straalen explains. “From 5-25% of the concentrate feed can be palm expeller meal, because it’s high in protein, the price is reasonable, and it’s well evaluated as an energy source within the Dutch feed industry.”

However, utilising less of this feed source is typically regarded desirable in Holland due to worries about local use/transportation as well as concerns about burning forests to produce palm. According to Van Straalen, this feed component is no longer utilised in certain other European nations, such as Scandinavia. This is owing to environmental concerns, but it might also be due to its high transportation costs and abundant supply of local crops like barley and oats.

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“Also, in the Netherlands, we feed dairy cows meadow grass, corn silage, and grass silage, as well as wet by-products like beetroot pulp, brewer’s grains, and potato byproducts,” Van Straalen explains. “These products are well suited to ruminant diets.” Brewer’s grains are rich in fibre and low in protein. By-pass starch is present in relatively high concentrations in potato processing by-products. Beetroot pulp was formerly dried and pelleted, but owing to costs, it is now maintained moist and ensiled. It has a lot of digestible fibre, which is great for dairy cows.”

Corn gluten feed, wheat gluten feed, wheat middlings and corn DDGS are also fed to Dutch dairy cows, either locally or from across Europe. These materials are also abundant in protein and fibre. Citrus pulp is also often consumed, although it is becoming more scarce. Wheat, barley, and sunflower meal are further ingredients.

According to Van Straalen, more of these local feed sources from additional areas and sectors are projected to be introduced to the dairy cow diet in Holland. “The dairy industry, as well as the consumer and government, want this,” he argues.

Legislative thrust

The urge for more local feed is motivated by cost, but it is also motivated by rising environmental concerns and laws. Farmers are facing rising limits in terms of greenhouse gas emissions (nitrous oxide, CO2, methane, and ammonia) across the EU, with a particular emphasis on nitrogen restrictions in Holland, as everyone in agriculture is aware.

That is why, as Van Straalen says, there is a trend towards more crude protein in diets, which minimises nitrogen waste. “This will entail a focus on high-quality protein sources, as well as a much closer look at amino acid levels in diets to better match cattle needs,” he adds. In the future, this will be increasingly essential in ruminant feeding.”

Climate Change and Cows From the environment and emissions to food and welfare. Many variables influence how to effectively manage dairy cows in order to farm sustainably. We look at everything from ammonia to carbon emissions and methane in this section. More information may be found here.
He also believes that additional study into how to utilise by-pass amino acids and protein in the diet is needed. That is, there are several methods for protecting amino acids from ruminal breakdown, such as altering the chemical structure or adding a protective coating, to guarantee they remain intact until they are absorbed in the small intestine.

According to Van Straalen, the good news is that amino acid products have greatly improved in terms of by-pass protection as well as gut digestibility.

In the past, good by-pass value was obtained by treating rapeseed meal and soybean meal with formaldehyde, but this treatment has been outlawed in other EU countries and will be phased out in the Netherlands this year. As a result, in the next months, there will be a quick shift in the Netherlands to alternate therapies, untreated meals, or other sources of by-pass protein.

While lupins and peas contain protein with high by-pass value, they must be toasted to do so. According to Van Straalen, this is not yet an industrial practise, but study into it is ongoing at Schothorst Feed study and other institutions and enterprises.

Soybean meal, presumably certified against rainforest damage, is one dairy feed component Van Straalen does not anticipate to alter in Europe in the coming years. This is because to its high protein quality.

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Commitment to sourcing local feed

According to Van Straalen, the Dutch Dairy Association (NZO) has made a general promise that in the future, 65% of protein in the national ration would originate from local sources (including grass). This is part of the bigger ‘On the Way to PlanetProof’ food certification system.
PlanetProof says that “by having a minimum of 50% of the feed generated in-house, [farms] are motivated to further close the cycle…The dairy farmer may conclude the cycle by employing self-produced raw materials such as manure and calf feed, as well as acquiring raw materials in an efficient and restricted manner.”

Education provided by the government

According to Van Straalen, the largest hurdle to raising the quantity of local feed used by Dutch dairy producers is government officials’ lack of expertise.

“To reduce ammonia, the government here has requested voluntary milk production stops and plans to force farm buyouts in 2024 if necessary, but there are other solutions,” he adds.

“We’ve done a lot of research on how to reduce protein, but there’s still work to be done to figure out how low you can go without affecting cow performance.” And if we utilise more grass, if grass is the primary food supply, and farmers do not fertilise the fields, the nitrogen/protein concentration of the grass will be reduced, resulting in decreased ammonia emissions from cow excrement. This implies that we may have to tolerate decreased milk output in order to minimise ammonia levels. More debate of these and other topics is required.”

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