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Canola meal: The protein source for today's dairy cattle

Vegetable proteins are the major sources of amino acids available for feeding dairy cows. How does canola meal stack up?


Vegetable proteins are the major sources of supplemental amino acids available for feeding dairy cows. Depending on the market area, nutritionists usually have several options when selecting protein ingredients. Each option has advantages and disadvantages when it comes to formulating diets and meeting cow requirements. One option that continues to perform particularly well is canola meal. Table 1 shows the results of head-to-head studies published since 2005 that compare canola meal to other common vegetable protein sources. As the table illustrates, canola meal performed as well as or better than the alternative meals evaluated for milk production potential in most published studies.  

Table 1. Comparison of milk production (kg) by cows given diets in which the major supplemental protein source was supplied by canola meal or another vegetable protein

Canola meal





Soybean Meal





Brito and Broderick, 2007




Christen, et al., 2010




Broderick, et al., 2012




Faciola and Broderick, 2013




Maxin, et al., 2013




Broderick and Faciola, 2014




Broderick, et al., 2015




Gidlund, et al., 2015




Weiss, et al., 2015




De Paula, 2015




Moore and Kalscheur, 2016


Cottonseed Meal






White, et al., 2000




Maesoomi, et al., 2006




Brito and Broderick, 2007








Mulrooney, et al., 2009




Christen, et al., 2010




Maxin, et al., 2013




Swanepoel, et al., 2014




Acharya, et al., 2015


Wheat DDGS






Chibisa, et al., 2012




Maxin, et al., 2013




Mutsvangwa, et al., 2016




Abeysekara and Mutsvangwa, 2016


Sunflower Meal






Vincent, et al., 1990




Beauchemin, et al., 2009








Beauchemin, et al., 2009


Brewery Grains






Moate, et al., 2011


Rapeseed Meal






Hristov, et al., 2011

Why does canola meal perform so well? The Canola Council of Canada, along with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada’s AgriInnovation program, under the Canola Agri-Science Cluster, has been investing in research to determine why canola meal performs as it does. 

Older tabular values for canola meal do not coincide with the true feeding value of canola meal. There are three main reasons for these inaccuracies:

  1. Canola is an oilseed that was developed in the 1970’s from rapeseed. While rapeseed still enjoys use in Europe, rapeseed has almost entirely been replaced by canola in North America. The original research to determine canola meal’s tabular values was conducted on varieties no longer in use, but software values haven’t been updated. In addition, nutrient values from rapeseed and canola are often used interchangeably, even though they are two different plants.
  2. Canola meal protein is highly soluble. In older formulation systems, soluble protein was equated to degraded protein. However, the soluble protein in canola meal is not readily degraded and adds to the supply of rumen undegraded protein.
  3. Canola meal contains more lignin than most oilseed meals. Older formulation systems using lignin to compute indigestible fiber underestimated the digestibility of the fiber component of the meal, which also then resulted in lower calculated energy values.

The nutrient profile and feeding value of canola meal has been updated, compiled and made available on Canolamazing.com. The feeding value for dairy cattle was also recently reviewed in an October 2015 issue of Feedstuffs (Evans and Callum, 2015). But even in the last year new information on feeding canola meal to dairy cows at all stages of the production cycle has been made available.

A feeding trial involving cows in early lactation, rather than mid or late lactation was completed by Moore and Kalscheur (2016) in which protein from soybean meal was replaced by protein from canola meal. These researchers found that milk production was greater (55.7 kg vs. 51.9 kg) with the canola meal diet with no differences in percentages of milk components. Milk urea nitrogen was lower with the canola meal diet and feed efficiency was improved. Combined, these parameters indicate that protein from canola meal is used efficiently by cows in early lactation.

There has been much speculation that the amino acid profile of canola meal is responsible for the improvements in nitrogen efficiency, as noted in recent studies. However, the quest to determine the most limiting amino acid is ongoing. Broderick, et al. (2015) provided lactating dairy cows high- and low-protein diets using either soybean meal, canola meal or canola meal supplemented with rumen-protected lysine and methionine. Although milk production was enhanced with canola meal relative to soybean meal, there was no further improvement found when the two amino acids were added. In contrast, Liu, et al. (2016) found greater milk yield with added rumen-protected lysine. Swanepoel, et al. (2016) investigated milk response to rumen-protected phenylalanine, and found that although the addition of phenylalanine to canola meal was of no benefit to the production of milk or components, more energy was available for body weight gain at the same intakes.

Rezamand, et al. (2016) showed that the fatty acids in as little as 3 percent oilseed meal can impact gene expression related to inflammatory response. Canola meal contains high levels of oleic acid, which may be more inert than linoleic or linolenic acids. Fatty acids may become important to future ration formulations.

In a recent study (Hadam, et al., 2016), calves were offered starter rations containing combinations of canola meal and soybean meal from 15 to 35 days of life. The three rations compared contained either 24 percent soybean meal, 35 percent canola meal or 12.5 percent soybean meal plus 16.5 percent canola meal. Average daily gains were lower with the all-canola meal starter than with the soybean meal or the mixture of soybean meal and canola meal. Therefore, using a ration blended with canola meal and soybean meal presents great opportunity for calves.

Canola meal is also a suitable ingredient in diets for growing replacement heifers. Suarez-Mena, et al. (2015) provided diets to growing heifers that contained 21 percent, 14 percent, 7 percent or 0 percent canola meal, with the canola replaced by corn distillers’ grains. Nitrogen retention (protein deposition) decreased as canola was replaced by distillers’ grains. Similarly, Nair, et al. (2016) found that feedlot heifers consumed more feed with 10 percent canola meal than no canola meal in the diet, and nitrogen retention was improved with canola meal. 

Evidence supports the use of canola meal in diets not just for lactating dairy cattle, but dairy cattle throughout the production cycle. Recent findings indicate that canola meal is well-used in early lactation, and can be used to support heifer growth. Updated file values have been generated to allow more accurate formulation. Research continues in an effort to learn more about the uses and limitations of this ingredient for dairy animals. Visit Canolamazing.com to learn more about feeding canola meal to dairy cows.


Abeysekara, S. and T. Mutsvangwa. 2016. Effects of feeding canola meal or wheat dried distillers’ grains with solubles alone or in combination as the major protein sources on ruminal function and production in dairy cows J. Dairy Sci. 99:755–756

Acharya, I.P., D.J. Schingoethe, K.F. Kalscheur, and D.P. Casper. 2015. Response of lactating dairy cows to dietary protein from canola meal or distillers’ grains on dry matter intake, milk production, milk composition, and amino acid status. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 95:267–279.

Beauchemin, K.A., S.M. McGinn, C. Benchaar, and L. Holtshausen. 2009. Crushed sunflower, flax, or canola seeds in lactating dairy cow diets: effects on methane production, rumen fermentation, and milk production. J. Dairy Sci. 92:2118–2127

Brito A.F. and G.A. Broderick. 2007. Effects of different protein supplements on milk production and nutrient utilization in lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 90:1816–27

Broderick, G.A., A.P. Faciola, and L.E. Armentano. 2015. Replacing dietary soybean meal with canola meal improves production and efficiency of lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 98:5672–5687.

Broderick, G.A., and A. Faciola. 2014. Effects of supplementing rumen-protected met and lys on diets containing soybean meal or canola meal in lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci . 97 (Suppl. 1): 750–751

Broderick. G.A., A.P. Faciola, L. Nernberg, and D. Hickling. 2012. Effect of replacing dietary soybean meal with canola meal on production of lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 95(Suppl. 2): 249

Chibisa, G.E., D.A. Christensen, and T. Mutsvangwa. 2012. Effects of replacing canola meal as the major protein source with wheat dried distillers’ grains with solubles on ruminal function, microbial protein synthesis, omasal flow, and milk production in cows. J. Dairy Sci. 95:824–841

Christen, K.A., D.J. Schingoethe, K.F. Kalscheur, A.R. Hippen, K.K. Karges, and M.L. Gibson. 2010. Response of lactating dairy cows to high-protein distillers’ grains or 3 other protein supplements. J. Dairy Sci. 93:2095–2104

Claassen, R.M., D.A. Christensen, and T. Mutsvangwa. 2016. Effects of extruding wheat-dried distillers’ grains with solubles with peas or canola meal on ruminal fermentation, microbial protein synthesis, nutrient digestion, and milk production in dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 99:7143–7158

Evans, E. and C. Callum. 2015. Feeding value of canola meal in dairy rations evaluated. Feedstuffs, 87(37)

Faciola, A. and G.A Broderick. 2013. Effects of replacing soybean meal with canola meal for lactating dairy cows fed three different ratios of alfalfa-to-corn silage. J. Dairy Sci. 96 (E-Suppl. 1): 452

Gidlund, H., M. Hetta, S.J. Krizsan, S. Lemosquet, and P. Huhtanen. 2015. Effects of soybean meal or canola meal on milk production and methane emissions in lactating dairy cows fed grass silage-based diets. J. Dairy Sci. 98:8093–8106

Hadam, D., J. Kanski, K. Burakowska, G.B. Penner, Z.M. Kowalski, and P. Górka. 2016. Short Communication: Effect of canola meal use as a protein source in a starter mixture on feeding behavior and performance of calves during the weaning transition. J. Dairy Sci. 99:1247–1252

Hristov, A.N., C. Domitrovich, A. Wachter, T. Cassidy, C. Lee, K.J. Shingfield, P. Kairenius, J. Davis, and J. Brown. 2011. Effect of replacing solvent-extracted canola meal with high-oil traditional canola, high-oleic acid canola, or high-erucic acid rapeseed meals on rumen fermentation, digestibility, milk production, and milk fatty acid composition in lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 94:4057–4074

Huang X., N.A. Khan, X. Zhang, and P. Yu. 2015. Effects of canola meal pellet conditioning temperature and time on ruminal and intestinal digestion, hourly effective degradation ratio, and potential nitrogen to energy synchronization in dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 98:8836–8845

Liu G., Z. Ma, A. Shan, L. Wang, and Z. Bi. 2016. Effects of dietary rumen-protected lysine on milk yield and composition in lactating cows fed diets containing double-low rapeseed meal. Int. J. Dairy Technol. 69:380–385

Maesoomi, S.M., G.R. Ghorbani, M. Alikhani, and A. Nikkhah, 2006. Short Communication: Canola meal as a substitute for cottonseed meal in diet of mid-lactation Holsteins. J. Dairy Sci. 89:1673–1677

Maxin, G. D.R. Ouellet, and H. Lapierre. 2013. Effect of substitution of soybean meal by canola meal or distillers grains in dairy rations on amino acid and glucose availability. J. Dairy Sci. 96:7806–7817

Moate, P.J., S.R. Williams, C. Grainger, M.C.  Hannah,  E.N. Ponnampalam, and R.J.  Eckard. 2011. Influence of cold-pressed canola, brewers’ grains, and hominy meal as dietary supplements suitable for reducing enteric methane emissions from lactating dairy cows. Anim. Feed Sci Technol. 166:254–264.

Moore, S.A.E. and K.F. Kalscheur. 2016. Canola meal in dairy cow diets during early lactation increases production compared to soybean meal. J. Dairy Sci. (Suppl. 1) 99:719

Mulrooney, C.N., D.J. Schingoethe, K.F. Kalscheur, and A.R. Hippen. 2009. Canola meal replacing distillers’ grains with solubles for lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 92:5669–5676

Mutsvangwa T., D. Kiran, and S. Abeysekara. 2016. Effects of feeding canola meal or wheat-dried distillers’ grains with solubles as a major protein source in low- or high-crude protein diets on ruminal fermentation, omasal flow, and production in cows. J. Dairy Sci. 99:1216–1227

Nair, J., G.B. Penner, P. Yu, H.A. Lardner, T.A. McAllister, D. Damiran, and J.J. McKinnon. 2016. Evaluation of canola meal derived from Brassica juncea and Brassica napus on rumen fermentation and nutrient digestibility by feedlot heifers fed finishing diets. Can. J. Anim. Sci. 96:3423–3453

Paula, E.M., M.A.C. Danes, N.E. Lobos, G.I. Zanton, G.A. Broderick, and A. Faciola. 2015. Effects of replacing soybean meal with canola meal or treated canola meal on performance of lactating dairy cows. J. Dairy Sci. 98 (Suppl. 2): 387

Rezamand P., B.P. Hatch, K.G. Carnahan, and M.A. McGuire. 2016. Effects of α-linolenic acid-enriched diets on gene expression of key inflammatory mediators in immune and milk cells obtained from Holstein dairy cows. J. Dairy Res. 83:20–27.

Shingfield, K.J., A. Vanhatalo, and P. Huhtanen. 2003. Comparison of heat-treated rapeseed expeller and solvent-extracted soya-bean meal as protein supplements for dairy cows given grass silage-based diets. Anim. Sci. 77:305–317

Suarez-Mena, F. X., G.J. Lascano, D.E. Rico, and A.J. Heinrichs. 2015. Effect of forage level and replacing canola meal with dry distillers grains with solubles in precision-fed heifer diets: digestibility and rumen fermentation. J. Dairy Sci. 98:8054–8065

Swanepoel, N., P.H. Robinson, and L.J. Erasmus. 2015. Effects of ruminally protected methionine and/or phenylalanine on performance of high-producing Holstein cows fed rations with very high levels of canola meal. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 205:10–22

Swanepoel, N., P.H. Robinson, and L.J. Erasmus. 2016. Impacts of adding ruminally protected phenylalanine to rations containing high levels of canola meal on performance of high-producing Holstein cows. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 216:108–120

Swanepoel, N., P.H. Robinson, and L.J. Erasmus. 2014. Determining the optimal ratio of canola meal and high-protein dried distillers’ grain protein in diets of high-producing Holstein dairy cows. Anim. Feed Sci. Technol. 189:41–53

Weiss, W.P., D.J. Wyatt, D.H. Kleinschmit, and M.T. Socha. 2015. Effect of including canola meal and supplemental iodine in diets of dairy cows on short-term changes in iodine concentrations in milk. J. Dairy Sci. 98:4841–4849

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