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Reducing dietary protein in dairy cow diets: implications for nitrogen utilization, milk production, welfare and fertility

Sinclair, K.D.; Garnsworthy, P.C.; Mann, G.E.; Sinclair, L.A.


Professor of Developmental Biology

G.E. Mann

L.A. Sinclair


In light of increasing global protein prices and with the need to reduce environmental impact of contemporary systems of milk production, the current review seeks to assess the feasibility of reducing levels of dietary CP in dairy cow diets. At CP levels between 140 and 220 g/kg DM there is a strong positive relationship between CP concentration and dry matter intake (DMI). However, such effects are modest and reductions in DMI when dietary CP is below 180 g/kg DM can be at least partially offset by improving the digestibility and amino acid profile of the undegradable protein (UDP) component of the diet or by increasing rumen fermentable energy. Level and balance of intestinally absorbable amino acids, in particular methionine and lysine, may become limiting at lower CP concentrations. In general the amino acid composition of microbial protein is superior to that of UDP, so that dietary strategies that aim to promote microbial protein synthesis in the rumen may go some way to correcting for amino acid imbalances in low CP diets. For example, reducing the level of NDF, while increasing the proportion of starch, can lead to improvements in nitrogen (N) utilisation as great as that achieved by reducing dietary CP to below 150 g/kg. A systematic review and meta-analysis of responses to rumen protected forms of methionine and lysine was conducted for early/mid lactation cows fed diets containing â©150 g CP/kg DM. This analysis revealed a small but significant (P=0.002) increase in milk protein yield when cows were supplemented with these rumen protected amino acids. Variation in milk and milk protein yield responses between studies was not random but due to differences in diet composition between studies. Cows fed low CP diets can respond to supplemental methionine and lysine so long as DMI is not limiting, metabolisable protein (MP) is not grossly deficient and other amino acids such as histidine and leucine do not become rate limiting. Whereas excess dietary protein can impair reproduction and can contribute to lameness, there is no evidence to indicate that reducing dietary CP levels to around 140 to 150 g CP/kg DM will have any detrimental effect on either cow fertility or health. Contemporary models that estimate MP requirements of dairy cows may require refinement and further validation in order to predict responses with low CP diets. © 2013 The Animal Consortium.


Garnsworthy, P., MANN, G., SINCLAIR, K., & SINCLAIR, L. (2014). Reducing dietary protein in dairy cow diets: implications for nitrogen utilization, milk production, welfare and fertility. animal, 8(2), 262-274.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Oct 8, 2013
Online Publication Date Dec 2, 2013
Publication Date Feb 1, 2014
Deposit Date Mar 27, 2018
Journal Animal
Print ISSN 1751-7311
Electronic ISSN 1751-732X
Publisher Cambridge University Press (CUP)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 8
Issue 2
Pages 262-274
Public URL
Publisher URL
PMID 00033090