Arm & Hammer Animal and Food Production

Make Your Ration Work Harder in Tough Economic Times

Every nickel and every dime always count, but it seems like they count more these days for dairy farmers. While the long-term outlook for milk prices is beginning to brighten just a bit, producers must still keep a close eye on every part of their business as they ride out this cycle of negative economic forces.

Feed cost is one area that gets a lot of extra scrutiny when margins get tight, and justifiably so since ration expense accounts for half or more of dairy production costs. As dairies and their nutritionists comb through diets in search of savings and efficiencies, feed ingredients that accomplish multiple functions while increasing financial benefits should get a second look.

Positive Benefit Ratio

For example, when Christian Hill Dairy of Lomira, Wisconsin, learned they could cut their feed cost by at least 9 cents per cow per day simply by replacing multiple feed ingredients with Refined Functional Carbohydrates™ (RFCs™), they quickly took action.


“We’ve been feeding RFCs for more than a year and haven’t looked back,” says Curt Christian, owner, Christian Hill Dairy. 

RFCs are a single, all-natural ingredient that replaces multiple feed ingredients. RFCs are the components harvested from yeast cells (S. cerevisiae) using specific enzymes during the manufacturing process. This enzymatic hydrolysis yields:

  • MOS (Mannan Oligosaccharides)
  • Beta 1,3-1,6 glucans
  • D-Mannose

Dairies can purchase multiple sources of these ingredients, but when they are combined into a single, unique offering, RFCs cost a fraction of their parts.

At Christian Hill, they were able to remove a live yeast product and a beta glucan product from their lactating and transition cow diets, replacing it with RFCs—with no slow-down in milk production or reduction in milk quality that can sometimes accompany ration changes. In fact, the dairy noted an uptick in milk quality following the introduction of RFCs.

Plus, the feed cost savings quickly add up. The reduction of 9-cents-per-cow-per-day equates to an extra $189 per day for the 2,100-cow herd. In a year’s time, that 9-cent savings totals $68,985.

Insurance Policy

In addition to serving multiple functions within the ration, RFCs offer health benefits, too. For instance, it’s been shown they help negate the detrimental effects of mycotoxins that sometimes occur in feed. Just as with pathogens, RFCs bind to these toxins—like Aflatoxin, DON, Fumonisin, T-2 and Zeralenone—and prevent gut damage and help maintain feed intake, growth and feed efficiency1,2.

Mycotoxins are of concern for dairy farmers and nutritionists because these toxins—which originate from molds—occur with varying frequency, but commonly enough to cause concern. Worldwide estimates suggest about 25 percent of crops are affected annully.3

These secondary metabolites can represent a serious health and productivity risk to cows. For example, Aflatoxin B1 may increase somatic cell counts, while Fumonison reduces nutrient absorption and diet effectiveness and T-2 can cause gastrointestinal hemorrhages.4

 “Most dairies today have to purchase at least some of their forages, so you’re dealing with different sources,” says Christian. “That means you have to feed some kind of binder to protect cows because you don’t always know if the feed contains aflatoxins or it may have different levels of quality. Plus, you can encounter challenges when you open up a new bunker or even between fields within bunkers. I’d rather feed RFCs that not only provide an insurance policy for the herd, but also have additional benefits.”

He adds, “There are many factors that influence milk production, and our job is to remove the ‘noise’ that comes from these different factors. RFCs help us do that. Cows crave consistency and it’s our job to eliminate the ups and downs in our rations. Not only do we need to make sure we’re feeding cows at the same time every day, we need to make sure that rations are consistent, too.”

Also, because of the multi-functional nature of RFCs (reducing the effects of harmful pathogens, as well as toxins, in feed) less energy is needed for fighting infections and supporting the immune system and more energy is available for milk production, synergistically helping animal performance.

Additional Dietary Factors

Lastly, don’t forget about the roles that Dietary Anion-Cation Difference (DCAD) and metabolizable protein (MP) play in getting the most from your dairy rations. The two work well in tandem to promote cow health and productivity.

Dairies have learned over recent years that feeding a negative DCAD diet (-8 to -12 meq/100g ration dry matter) for the three weeks prior to calving improves cow health and performance in the following lactation.

Feeding a positive DCAD diet postcalving also benefits cow health and performance. Achieving a positive DCAD can help neutralize blood acid load caused by high milk production, ketone development and free fatty acids from body fat mobilization.

Plus, increasing the potassium component of DCAD will help replace what is lost through increased milk production, as well as assist cows in better dealing with heat stress. Aim for a dietary potassium level of at least 1.7% of the total dry matter during non-heat-stress periods, and at least 2% immediately before and during heat-stress periods of the year.

Finally, MP matters because it is the true protein that is digested postruminally, and the amino acids that are the components of protein are absorbed by the small intestine. Absorbed amino acids are used for the synthesis of proteins that are essential for an animal’s growth, body condition maintenance, reproduction and milk production, as well as supporting fetal growth. These are vitally important tasks, and help explain why proper nutrition in the transition period helps lay the groundwork for a successful next lactation.

To learn more, visit

1 Brake, JT. Effect of CELMANAX supplementation in diets naturally contaminated with aflatoxin and DON on broiler performance. Report on file. 2012.

2 Baines D, Erb S, Turkington K, Kuldau G, Juba J, Masson L, Mazza A, Roberts R. Mouldy feed, mycotoxins and Shiga toxin- producing Escherichia coli colonization associated with Jejunal Hemorrhage Syndrome in beef cattle. BMC Veterinary Research 2011;7:24.

3 Whitlow LW, Hagler WM, Mycotoxins in Dairy Cattle: Occurrence, Toxicity, Prevention and Treatment. North Carolina State University. Available at: Accessed June 20, 2016.

4 Citation to come

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