Fermentrics, a new diagnostic test that measures the digestion rates of feed samples, is generating buzz in the industry.    

“I think it’s such a valuable tool for the dairy industry, I’ve been trying to get nutritionists and producers to understand its practical utility,” says Bill Mahanna, global nutritional sciences manager at Pioneer Hi-Bred.

With Fermentrics, an individual feed or TMR sample is placed in a closed vessel with rumen fluid to measure fermentation gas production. The automated system produces 5,000 data points over the 48-hour incubation. Sophisticated curve-peeling software is used to separate the gas curves into a “fast pool” and a “slow pool.” While not completely homogeneous, the fast pool consists mostly of starch and the slow pool consists mostly of fiber. This gives a more accurate picture of digestion kinetics than traditional methods that may only use one or two time points.

Mahanna likens it to charting a runner’s progress in a long-distance race. If the runner’s progress is charted only once ― say, at the end of six miles ― it gives an indication of his speed.

“What would be a better indicator of his running ability would be to measure his time for each and every mile,” he says. “And, in a way, that is kind of what Fermentrics is ― it’s allowing us to measure continuously over the whole fermentation to see the rates of digestion at various time points.”

From the data, a graph is developed from which the carbohydrate digestion rate values are calculated. These values can be used in sophisticated ration-balancing programs rather than relying on book values populating the feed libraries.

The Fermentrics methodology also allows for direct measurement of microbial biomass production, or “how many rumen bugs grow on the sample.” This is a powerful metric that can be used to compare feedstuffs or TMR samples. The Fermentrics report also includes an innovative new approach to measuring soluble protein, which many nutritionists believe provides a more realistic value than the traditional borate-buffer soluble protein method used by most laboratories. 

The possible applications of Fermentrics are endless.

  • Troubleshooting forage quality. For instance, a nutritionist can order separate analyses of the TMR and the corn silage. If the corn silage comes back high in microbial biomass production and digestion rate, but the TMR is not so good, then it’s something else in the TMR besides corn silage — typically, the legume/grass forages ? that’s holding things back.
  • Formulating rations. With Fermentrics, you can run an analysis ahead of time and get a good idea of whether the new ration will work. “Theoretically, you could use Fermentrics to put together a couple of different scenarios for rations,” Mahanna says. That might be cheaper over the long run “than trying to wait for the cows to tell us (how a ration is doing),” he adds.
  • Benchmarking successful rations. One opportunity often overlooked by nutritionists is sampling the forages or TMR when cows are performing well, and using this as a benchmark to work toward when production falters.

The price of Fermentrics (including all of the traditional analysis values) is $145 for a TMR and $125 for individual ingredients or forages. Mahanna calls it “a very reasonable price for all of the information that is measured by this innovative methodology.”

“It’s an unbelievable tool,” he adds. 

Dairyland Labs in Arcadia, Wis., offers Fermentrics in cooperation with RFS Technologies from Ottawa, Canada.