Protein Utilization

 Knowledge Nuggets | Fact Sheets | Research Papers

Knowledge Nuggets

  • Forages contain crude protein (nitrogen x 6.25) in the form of both true protein and non-protein nitrogen (NPN), both of which can be used by cattle.
  • Young cattle with immature rumens cannot efficiently utilize non-protein nitrogen.
  • Forages provide protein to cattle either as protein that is degraded by the ruminal microbes (degraded protein) or as small nitrogen bearing compounds such as peptides, amino acids and ammonia that are absorbed by the intestine (undegraded protein).
  • Peptides, amino acids and ammonia are utilized by the cow, but are also used by the microbes to form new protein and to provide protein that escapes microbial breakdown in the rumen, called bypass protein.
  • Rapid and extensive ruminal breakdown of crude protein in forages leads to decreased protein efficiency because the ruminal microbes do not use the degraded protein as fast as it is broken down. This leads to formation of ammonia.
  • Although some ammonia is used by microbes to form new protein, most ammonia is absorbed from the rumen, carried by the blood to the liver and converted to urea and excreted in the urine.
  • Some urea will "recycle" to the rumen, either via the saliva or directly from the blood where it is broken down to ammonia. In cattle fed low protein diets, urea recycling is an important means of salvaging nitrogen that would otherwise be lost from the animal.
  • Sometimes it is beneficial to feed a protein source that is resistant to microbial breakdown in the rumen. Protein bypasses the rumin and is absorbed in the intestines which improves the overall availability of it to those animals with high protein demands (growing calves, lactating cows). Higher bypass protein feeds include alfalfa dehy pellets, beet pulp and distillers grains.
  • Forages typically have high levels of easily degraded protein and low levels of undegradeable or bypass protein. Once processed with heat, such as when forages are pelleted, most of the protein becomes denatured making it less digestible by microbes. As a result, a greater percentage of the protein stays intact during the digestive process and gets absorbed in the small intestine.
  • Because of the higher cost of feeds that contain bypass protein, the economic advantages do not exist in most beef feed scenarios. Bypass protein may offer economic advantages when feeding high producing dairy cows.
Fact Sheets

Effective Use of Protein in Early Lactation Diets

Evaluation of the nitrogen and energy utilization of legume forages by growing cattle and sheep - available in PDF format only

Feeding Dairy Cattle to Reduce Excess Nitrogen Output

Update on BUN and MUN as a Guide for Protein Supplementation in Cattle - available in PDF format only

Research Papers

Effects of dietary ruminally degradable starch and ruminally degradable protein levels on urea recycling, microbial protein production, nitrogen balance, and duodenal nutrient flow in beef heifers fed low crude protein diets - available in PDF format

Effects of dry matter concentration and ammonia treatment of alfalfa silage on digestion and metabolism by heifers.

Impact of prolonged cold exposure on dry matter intake and enteric methane emissions of beef cows overwintered on low-quality forage diets with and without supplemented wheat and corn dried distillers’ grain with solubles - available in PDF format only

Influence of post-calving supplemental protein on calf performance and reproductive efficiency for beef cows fed silage - available in PDF format only

Protein Degradation and Fermentation Characteristics of Red Clover and Alfalfa Silage Harvested with Varying Levels of Total Nonstructural Carbohydrates

Strategicially Feeding Protein And Energy During Wintering And Managing Cow Condition - available in PDF format only

The effect of protein supplementation on nitrogen utilization in lactating dairy cows fed grass silage diets.

  For more information about the content of this document, contact Grant Lastiwka.
This document is maintained by Mary Ann Nelson.
This information published to the web on April 27, 2006.
Last Reviewed/Revised on December 7, 2015.

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