Non-Fibre Carbohydrates in Dairy Diets


Source: Manitoba Agriculture Food, and Rural Initiatives

Most feed analysis labs now routinely report nonfibre carbohydrate (NFC) levels, also commonly known as nonstructural carbohydrates (NSC). The following are answers to the common questions about this relatively new “nutrient”.

What Are Non-Fibre Carbohydrates?

Carbohydrates are made up of 2 fractions – the cell wall fraction and the non-cell wall fraction. The cell wall, or fibre, fraction consists of cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin and is the neutral detergent fibre value on an analysis sheet. The non-cell wall fraction consists of the highly digestible cell contents (starch, sugars and pectins) and is called the nonfibre carbohydrate.

Why is NFC Important?

NFC is a highly digestible energy source and, together with degraded protein, is needed by the rumen for microbial growth and digestion.

What is the Dairy Cow Requirement for NFC?

In general, NFC levels should be between 35-42% of the ration dry matter.

What Happens if the Dietary NFC Level Falls Outside This Range?

If the NFC level is low, there will be poor rumen microbial growth and digestion. Milk yield, body condition and protein test may be negatively affected. Incidence of ketosis may be increased in early lactation cows. If the NFC level is high, there is “too much” readily available energy and acidosis and low fat tests can occur.

How is NFC Analyzed?

NFC is not analyzed directly. It is calculated by subtracting the other feed components (NDF, CP, ether extract, ash) from 100.

Do Feeds Vary in Their NFC Levels?

Yes. Average NFC values for common feedstuffs are as follows:

Feedstuff % NFC Feedstuff % NFC
Barley 62 Dried Distillers Grains 16
Wheat 65 Beet Pulp 39
Corn 75 Alfalfa (midbloom) 24
Canola Meal 11 Corn Silage (well eared) 40
47% Soybean Meal 34 Corn Silage (few ears) 29

For further information contact:

Karen Dupchak
Farm Production Extension, Animal Nutritionist
Manitoba Agriculture Food, and Rural Initiatives
204-545 University Crescent
Winnipeg, MB R3T 5S6
Phone: 204-945-7668
Fax: 204-945-4327