Betafin, the natural osmolyte counteracting heat stress in dairy cows


Deepashree Kand
Available from Halchemix Canada

Heat stress in animals affects physiological and metabolic processes causing a negative impact on health and performance, which leads to economic losses for producers. Dairy cows are sensitive to heat stress as they have high metabolic energy expenditures due to milk production, and greater difficulty balancing body heat production and loss, ultimately causing reduced weight gain, milk yield, and fertility.

Effective nutritional strategy

Managing heat stress in ruminants is a multifaceted issue. Aside from improving housing conditions, nutritional strategies are needed to help cattle cope with heat stress. In this context, natural betaine supplementation is increasingly recognised as an effective solution.

Betafin® natural betaine, a trimethyl derivative of the amino acid glycine, acts as an osmolyte and methyl donor. As an osmolyte, betaine helps protect cells from dehydration by maintaining cell water balance and reducing ion pump energy expenditure. As a methyl donor, it contributes methyl groups to the transmethylation cycle to ultimately form products such as creatine, critical in muscle energy metabolism, or phosphatidylcholine. Unlike choline, betaine does not need conversion to enter the transmethylation cycle.  Additionally, synthetic betaine HCl differs from natural betaine structurally making it a weak osmolyte and a possible source of trimethylamine, which is associated with fishy off-flavour in milk.

Overall, natural betaine helps maintain performance during heat stress by improving cell hydration, reducing energy expenditure, and contributing to methyl group metabolism.

Proven results

Betafin® is sustainable natural betaine made from sugar beet (Beta vulgaris) molasses and vinasses. Widely used as a feed additive in animal nutrition, its dual action helps mitigate the negative effects of heat stress and maintain profitable livestock production.

In a summer grazing cow study, Betafin® supplementation improved milk yield and composition (Figure 1). Holstein×Friesian cows were fed with concentrate and silage and/or hay with Betafin® added to the concentrate at either 0 (Control) or 2 g/kg (Betafin®) to provide 0 or ~15 g betaine/cow/day.

Subsequent analysis revealed Betafin® increased milk yield (+1.4 kg/day) by 6.4% (P<0.05) versus the control diet. Plus, milk fat (+48 g/day) and protein (+42 g/day) increased by 5.5% and 6.2%, (P<0.05) respectively, compared to non-supplemented cows.

Equally important is the positive effect of natural betaine on key indicators for reproductive efficiency. In a four-month trial with heat-stressed dairy cows (Karan Fries), Betafin® supplementation at 50 g betaine/cow/day shortened the calving to first service interval by 26.5% (from 102 to 75.3 days) and reduced the number of services per conception by 30.8% (P<0.05) compared to the control group. (Figure 2).

Natural betaine at its best

In conclusion, betaine is the only dietary methyl donor that is also an osmolyte through which more energy efficient water balance benefits performance. Betafin® supplementation is a proven strategy to mitigate the consequences of heat stress on dairy cow milk production and fertility.

Figure 1: Betafin® supplementation on milk, fat and protein yields of heat-stressed grazing cows.

Figure 2: Betafin® supplementation on the reproductive performance of heat-stressed dairy cows.