You have probably already enjoyed some today - in your coffee, with your morning cereal or even pure. For most people, milk is part of a balanced diet. And for a good reason: cow's milk is a high-quality protein source and supplies the body with minerals such as calcium and magnesium as well as a number of B vitamins. Milk contains all the essential amino acids in balanced proportions.
But the current production volume is hardly enough to feed the world's population in the long run. The UN estimates that by 2050 almost 9 billion people will live on Earth. For Africa alone, the FAO predicts an increase of 1 billion people by the middle of the century. That means there will be an additional demand for around 400 million liters. In Asia, consumption of milk and dairy products is expected to increase by 125 percent. Apart from population growth, rising prosperity in emerging countries and changing dietary habits are driving milk consumption.
There are two approaches to meeting the growing demand for milk: more cows or cows that give more milk. "For economic and environmental reasons, it would be desirable to achieve this by increasing the milk yield of cows, rather than increasing the herd," says Dr. Winfried Heimbeck, product manager Mepron® at Evonik. More cows would consume much more natural resources like agricultural land and water, both of which are available in limited quantities only.
And there are great differences in milk output per head worldwide. A cow in India can produce about 1,500 kilos of milk per year on average, while its US counterpart produces 10,000 kilos. Dr. Heimbeck has some ideas about how to close this gap: "Generally speaking, the conditions in which the animals are kept should improve. This includes, among other things, good veterinary care, sufficient water and naturally high-quality feed.”
Good feed, good milk.
Feed is the keyword, because only well-fed cows can produce good milk. And good nutrition begins with a balanced intake of essential amino acids such as methionine and lysine – the building blocks of life, the proteins that enable growth and performance. If an essential amino acid such as methionine is missing, all other amino acids cannot be used by the animal for its own protein synthesis. The consequence: the animal’s performance decreases, and with it the quantity of milk.
Dairy farmers traditionally enrich feed with protein sources such as rapeseed or soybean. But this does not allow a precise dosage of every amino acid, which is why cows often have too little methionine to metabolize their feed efficiently. Valuable nutrients are excreted unused. This increases the nitrogen input into the environment and contributes to high nitrate pollution of groundwater.
Targeted use of Mepron®, the amino acid DL-methionine especially treated for ruminants, allows significant reductions in feed protein intake. Thanks to the special delivery form of Mepron®, methionine is mainly released in the small intestine - where it can be efficiently absorbed and – most importantly – made available for the production of milk protein. This allows a reduction of around ten percent in the protein content of dairy-cow feed rations. The farmer saves feed costs without performance losses while the cow’s liver and the metabolism are relieved, as fewer protein components must be broken down. The environment benefits in multiple ways, as less land is needed for cultivating crops such as rapeseed or soybean and 15 to 20 percent less nitrogen is excreted, reducing groundwater pollution.
All in all, it adds up to a win-win-win proposition that can help secure global availability of milk. And that’s good news for feed producers, dairy farmers and society as a whole.