Almond Hulls - A Versatile By-Product
By Michael Oliveira, Dairy Focus Consultant in California
Unique to California’s dairy industry is its abundance of by-products—almond hulls being one of those. Dairies can benefit from greater access to almond hulls, which fills the need for a low-cost by-product and can be fed to various age groups.
Almond hulls are an energy and fiber source that I have utilized since starting 18-years-ago as a nutrition consultant in California. More than 90% of the dairy farmers I work with feed almond hulls as a concentrate, silage extender, or both.
Silage extender and a concentrate ingredient
Incorporating almond hulls on dairies makes sense for a few reasons:
- Energy values are comparable to corn silage, making it an effective silage extender.
- A cost-effective substitute for other high energy concentrates and starch ingredients. Depending on the level of almond hulls fed, some corn can be substituted out by trading some dietary starch for the sugar provided from the almond hulls.
- Sugar content can increase ration palatability.
Comparing almond hulls to corn silage – Almond hulls offer a similar energy value when compared to corn silage. The amount of energy available to support milk production (NEL-3X) of almond hulls ranges between 67% and 70%, while corn silage’s NEL-3X is between 70% and 72%.
Cost-effective energy – Looking at an almond hull you may not think it contains much energy, but each hull is a little over 20% sugar. comparing almond hulls to other energy ingredients, such as corn, is always worth examining to see if it saves your dairy money without challenging the integrity of the diet.
Take note of quality – Regularly pulling samples of almond hulls ensures quality and assists in determining where and how the hulls fit into a ration based on the sample’s nutrient profile. Lower quality almond hulls can be expected at the tail end of each year’s harvest. Harvesting almond hulls typically occurs from late July to early August. After ten- or eleven-months post-harvest farmers should be more vigilant for mycotoxin causing molds and product inconsistencies.
Fitting it into the ration – As a rule of thumb, I like to start at two to three pounds per cow per day. Before substituting the almond hulls as a silage, I utilize Cargill’s dairy MAXTM software to view the parametric nutrition values and compare those to corn silage and other silages available on farm. Since almond hulls vary around 90% DM, many dairies utilize it as a silage extender at a 3:1 ratio (3lbs. silage or forage fed to 1lb. almond hulls fed).
It’s important to have a consistent and conservative approach to maximizing silage inventories, cow health, and production goals on farm. Feeding almond hulls year-round can help create fewer fluctuations in diet and lessens the chance for fluctuations in animal performance – a worthy objective on most operations.