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Can I Feed Canola Meal to Dairy Replacements?

Article first published in Dairy Business.

Last July, Dairy Business published an article “How much Canola Meal Can I Use in My Rations”? I wrote that article because it is the practical feeding question that I get asked often.  Having addressed that, I thought it was a good time to discuss another frequently asked question: Can I feed canola meal to growing heifers?

Again, this is not a question about research, but is an important one from a practical standpoint. With dairies having commodity bins full of canola, producers want to know if they can use it for dairy replacements.  In brief, the answer is yes, but there are some important points that will help to get the most out of the meal.

Starter Diets.  For many years, little research was conducted with canola meal for pre-weaned calves, as older studies revealed that intakes of diets with canola meal were low. Older varieties of canola meal that are no longer available contained significant quantities of bitter tasting glucosinolates.  The meal was believed to be unpalatable for young calves. Recently, however, a research team from the University of Saskatchewan in Canada and the University of Krakow in Poland have shown us that this no longer need be the case. The first study (Hadam et al, 2016) involved three diets and found no differences in intakes before or after weaning (Table 1).

Table 1. Evaluation of calf starter diets based on canola meal, a mixture of canola meal and soybean meal, or soybean meal as the main protein source.¹

¹Diets provided 22% crude protein

Although there were no statistically significant differences in performance, it still appeared like pre-weaned calves consumed numerically less feed with the canola meal diet. The researchers believed that there might still be some objection to canola meal, particularly pre weaning.  In a follow up study, they tried adding a sweetener to the diet, and evaluated diets with and without 5% glycerol. As Table 2 shows, adding glycerol improved the consumption of the starter feed. So, yes, canola meal can be used in starter diets, but we suggest adding a flavoring agent such as glycerol or molasses.

Table 2. Evaluation of calf starter diets based on canola meal, with or without 5% glycerol substituted for barley grain.¹

¹Diets provided 20.5% crude protein

Growing Heifers. Beyond the starter period, canola meal can readily be used as the major protein source for growing heifers. In one study (Gordon et al, 2012) breeding efficiency was found to be greater with canola meal than with soybean meal, possibly due to lower levels of estrogenic compounds. Numerous experiments with growing cattle comparing canola meal to other proteins, such as soybean meal, wheat distillers’ grains, and corn distillers’ grains have been conducted, covering a wide range of forage to concentrate levels. Canola meal is often used in beef backgrounding and feedlot rations in Western Canada.

As with dairy cows, there is need to restrict inclusion level for growing heifers once they are past weaning.

This article was funded in part by the Government of Canada under the Canadian Agricultural Partnership’s AgriMarketing Program.


Burakowska, K., Gorka, P., Kent-Dennis, C., Kowalski, Z.M., Laarveld, B. and Penner, G.B., 2020. Effect of heat-treated canola meal and glycerol inclusion on performance and gastrointestinal development of Holstein calves. Journal of Dairy Science, 103(9), pp.7998-8019.

Gordon, M.B., Thompson,E Gowan,T., Mosely,D., Small, J.A. and. Barrett, D.M.W., . 2012. The effects of a soybean and canola diet during pre-pubertal growth on dairy heifer fertility. Journal of dairy science, 95(E-Suppl 1):800.

Hadam, D., Kański, J., Burakowska, K., Penner, G.B., Kowalski, Z.M. and Górka, P., 2016. Effect of canola meal use as a protein source in a starter mixture on feeding behavior and performance of calves during the weaning transition. Journal of dairy science99(2), pp.1247-1252.

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