Canola meal a viable protein supplement for beef cattle

Key result:

The study showed that canola meal, a high-quality protein source, may be more economically favourable than distillers’ grains when used as a feed supplement for beef cattle.

Project title, principal investigator:

“Comparing the protein source and frequency of supplementation of forage intake, competitive feeding interactions, and nutrient utilization for beef cattle fed low-quality forages” Gregory Penner, University of Saskatchewan


SaskCanola, Saskatchewan Stock Growers Association, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada

Full report:

To find the full report, go to SaskCanola’s research page at and search for the project title.

Forages in Western Canada may not contain sufficient protein to meet nutrient requirements for beef cattle. Therefore, producers may need protein supplements to augment the dietary protein level in cattle rations. Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan and from industry wanted to determine if canola meal could be a suitable protein source for beef cattle.

Main objectives of this two-year study were to compare use and digestion kinetics for low-oil dry distillers’ grains, a high protein byproduct from the ethanol industry, and canola meal, a major high protein byproduct of canola oil production, as protein supplements for beef cattle consuming low-quality forage. Researchers also wanted to determine whether the source of protein and the frequency of protein supplementation affected nutrient utilization and feeding behaviour of cattle.

The study was conducted at the University of Saskatchewan’s Livestock Research Building using yearling heifers. The control treatment group were fed a mature grass hay-based diet and no protein supplements for 21 days. The other treatments included the mature grass hay-based diet with either canola meal or low-oil dry distillers’ grain supplements as pellets, either daily or every second day, for 21 days. Researchers assessed heifer performance and behavior, forage dry matter intake (DMI), heifer average daily gain (ADG), total ruminal short-chain fatty acids (SCFA) concentration and ruminal ammonia concentration.


The study confirmed that providing supplemental protein to beef heifers fed a protein-deficient diet increased feed intake and daily gain. Beef heifers fed low quality forage supplemented with either canola meal or distillers’ grains showed increased forage DMI, heifer ADG, total ruminal SCFA concentration and ruminal ammonia concentration than those without protein supplementation.

Groups fed a protein supplement showed gains of more than 0.8 pounds per day over the control. This shows that control cattle were limited on protein.

Although performance results of feeding canola meal or distillers’ grains were similar, the study showed that canola meal is a high-quality protein source and may be more economically favourable than distillers’ grains. Canola meal protein was degraded to a greater extent in the rumen than low-oil dry distillers’ grain protein, resulting in greater levels of ruminal ammonia-nitrogen. The supplement frequency did not affect forage or pellet DMI, but alternate-day supplementation led to increased competitive behavior between heifers and faster eating rate of the supplement provided due to increased motivation to feed when feed is offered less frequently.

Overall, the study showed a clear need for protein supplementation of heifers fed low-quality forages, and that canola meal can be a suitable and economically-favourable option. The study also showed feeding double the amount of protein supplements every second day was sufficient, saving producers time, labor and machinery costs. Overall, the study results highlight that cattle can up-cycle byproducts such as canola meal and convert them into a high-quality meat source.