Editor’s note: Martha Baker, of Amhurst, N.Y., dairy nutrition specialist with Purina Animal Nutrition, handled the following case.

It was a well-managed herd. Cow comfort was good; the forages good; the herd average a respectable 78 pounds.

But the herd had stalled out. Production just couldn’t get past the high-70s, low-80s and the herd nutritionist began to wonder if he was being too conservative with the rations.

The nutritionist had heard Martha Baker talk at a meeting about amino acid balancing and called her in to trouble-shoot.

On the initial walk-through, Baker didn’t see any obvious problems.

But that can be a problem in itself. “Because there is not something screaming for improvement, it can be a problem in spotting where the opportunities are and, in turn, convincing the producer to make an investment to realize those opportunities,” Baker says.

So, she started off asking two questions:  

  • Are we getting as much energy into these animals as we can? The answer was “yes.”
  • Do we have adequate forage and fiber levels maintaining a healthy rumen? The answer to that was “yes,” as well.

When those two questions were answered, Baker suggested that they look at the amino acid profile.

Using a ration balancing software program, Baker was able to determine that the metabolizable lysine level was sitting at 179 grams of intake per head per day. That wasn’t necessarily good or bad, but it did tell Baker there was an opportunity for improvement. 

 “When we look at what drives production from a milk-volume standpoint, metabolizable lysine is No. 1 ― it’s the No. 1 most limiting nutrient,” she says.

“The next amino acid we look at is metabolizable methionine. It’s a major player in milk components,” she adds.

Again, with methonine, Baker saw an opportunity for improvement.

She bumped up the metabolizable lysine level from 179 to 190 grams and the metabolizable methionine level from 50.5 grams to 59 grams.

Within a week, the herd increased 4 pounds on average, and within 30 days it was a 7-pound increase. Milk components stayed at a favorable level.

Adding commercial amino acid supplements did add some cost to the ration, but it was tempered by cutting back on some other ingredients. Net result: 12 cents per head per day of additional cost. At that particular time, milk was priced at $17 per hundredweight. So, a 7-pound increase amounted to $1.19 per head per day ― a 10-to-1 return on investment.  

In the process of adding amino acids, Baker and the herd nutritionist were able to scale back crude protein from 17.25 percent to 16.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the owners of the 1,200-cow dairy were thrilled and the nutritionist became very committed to amino acid balancing.