Skip to main content

Optigen: Answering your economic and environmental challenges

Optigen: Answering your economic and environmental challenges


With the recent supply chain challenges on raw materials, particularly soybean meal, and the resulting increased prices, farmers not only in Ireland but around the world, are crunching the numbers and reconsidering the feasibility of including certain materials in their feeds.

While these price hikes in raw materials may be temporary, in a situation where feed already contributes to up to 70% of on-farm beef and dairy production costs, can Irish farmers afford not to consider alternatives? Another element of the protein debate that is here to stay is the growing environmental concerns around the use of soybean meal in ruminant diets. Optigen® from Alltech provides a solution to both the economic and environmental challenges, with decades of research to support its benefits.

The most extensive research into Optigen took place over 17 years (2002–2018). A recent meta-analysis of 17 published beef studies revealed significant production benefits of Optigen inclusion.

 Optigen was proven to:

  • Increase daily liveweight gain by 8%.
  • Improve feed conversion efficiency (FCE) by 8%.
  • Reduce days to slaughter.
  • Reduce the carbon emission intensity of beef production.

Studies have also shown the positive impacts of Optigen on dairy production. A similar increase in feed conversion efficiency has been demonstrated, translating into an increased milk yield of 1.3–1.4 litres per cow.

While these results show production benefits at farm level, how does using Optigen impact the wider environmental picture? In 2019, the Carbon Trust validated that the replacement of high-carbon ingredients with Optigen significantly reduces the risk of a high carbon footprint, without affecting (and in some cases positively affecting) animal performance. For example, soybean meal carries a high carbon burden. For every 1% reduction in soya content in feed due to Optigen supplementation, there is an associated 1.5% reduction in the carbon footprint.  

Optigen is Alltech’s non-protein nitrogen source for ruminants. Unlike some other nitrogen sources, Optigen increases the efficiency of rumen nitrogen capture, resulting in lower nitrogen excretion. Figure 1 shows the Optigen degradation profile versus that of soybean meal. Optigen has a slow, steady release of nitrogen and can, therefore, partially replace soybean meal in diets.

Figure 1: Protein degradation versus time of soyabean meal and Optigen (Palmer et al., 2008).


Figure 2: Dermot O’Dowd, farm manager at Broadleas farm

Maximising the use of homegrown feed


Optigen compliments the use of high-energy feedstuffs very effectively. It concentrates the nitrogen fraction of the diet, creating dry matter space for more fibre and energy. This increase in microbial protein enhances the fibre digestion in the animal. Studies have shown this to be as high as +27% (Sinclair, 2008).

Dermot O’ Dowd is the manager of the beef enterprise at Broadleas farm in Stamullen, Co. Meath. Optigen has allowed Broadleas farm to maximise their use of homegrown feed and reduce their feed costs.

“We run a calf-to-beef and store-to-beef system, with some under-16-month bulls, but recently we have introduced more heifers to beef,” Dermot explains. “A lot of what we grow is used in the cattle’s diets; we grow our own barley, potatoes, grass and maize silage, which are all used in the diet. We allow time for a slow build-up onto their full diet — about three weeks in total. Then, once they are on their full diet, it is about 120 days to finish. A challenge for our farm is trying to reduce feed costs, and we try to reduce that by using as much of our own homegrown forage as we can. We put a huge emphasis on the quality of our grass and maize silage.

“We’ve been using Optigen from Alltech for three years now. We introduced it into the cattle’s diets so we could replace some of the protein in the diet and create more space to use as much of our own feeds as we could to cut down on costs. I think everyone has to be a little concerned about their farm’s sustainability nowadays; we use our own straw as bedding and using Optigen means we are using more of our own produce and not bringing in imported proteins.

“Optigen is a great protein alternative, which allows us to grow more and use more of our own feeds.”

Optigen feeding rates range from 50–150 grams per head per day. The product can be added directly to a TMR on-farm or included in the specification for a blend or pelleted feed supplied by your feed mill or mineral supplier.