We are presently going through a challenging period of high prices of raw materials and a limited availability of some of these materials. The use of less common raw materials that are readily available, and potentially less expensive, can be an alternative to traditional protein and energy sources and may help reduce the pressure on feed costs. However, new types of ingredients need extra attention to be paid to make sure they are suitable for feed processing, are free of contaminants, and can deliver the right amount of nutrients to the animals for an optimal performance and health.
Price volatility propels the use of alternative feed ingredients. But, when adopting such ingredients, how can we maintain the quality of diets and the performance of animals?
The quest for alternative ingredients
According to recent Rabobank figures (2022), soybean still dominates the world markets, with the US, Brazil and Argentina being the three largest producers. Soybean meal is one of the main ingredients in animal diets around the world because of its nutritional value, its stability in quality and availability, and has hence been called ‘the gold standard’ in animal feeds. However, with the double digit spikes in market prices observed over the last year, soy is - metaphorically - not far behind from being equally valued as real gold.
Because of the soaring prices (together with with environmental concerns about soybean production amongst others), animal nutritionists and farmers are looking for new ways to reduce feed costs. This is not an easy task, as there is a limited availability of alternative protein sources, such as rapeseed meal, sunflower meal, peanut meal and cottonseed meal. Moreover, rapeseed meal and (especially) sunflower meal production and availability are now heavily impacted by the war in Ukraine, as Ukraine and Russia are the main producers of these products.
Extra attention is needed for optimal use
In spite of their limited availability, the use of alternative ingredients has become a must in most regions in the world. When replacing soybean meal (completely or partly) with alternative ingredients (often from new and different suppliers), it is crucial to determine their nutritional value and their overall quality. Using alternative and less common feed ingredients can be particularly beneficial from a cost and nutritional perspective, but it may require paying extra attention to find the best way to use them in animal diets. Alternative ingredients may have a fickle and inconsistent fiber and protein level (see Table 1), can contain elevated mycotoxin levels, may react differently in (already existing) feed processing equipment and/or have a certain taste that animals are not used to (which can impact the feed intake levels). It should be kept in mind that there are no bad feed ingredients, and they should simply be used in the right way.
Table 1 - Some of the characteristics of a selection of alternative ingredients (compared with soybean meal).
Adapting the practices in the feed mill
Using alternative or new feed ingredients can have an effect at different levels (and on the costs) in feed production plants. Before making the decision to start using something new, it is necessary to know that the ingredient is safe to use, compatible with the existing plant equipment and should not increase the feed processing costs. This can be a challenge, as new ingredients may come in smaller quantities (smaller bags for instance), may be sourced from different regions, and may not be suitable for storage in silos. This can lead to the requirement of more manpower and a greater storage space.
The density of the material, its resistance to pests and molds, and the levels of shrinkage can also deviate from those of commonly used ingredients. Moreover, the feedstuff properties (such as hardness, moisture content, fiber content and particle size) can have an effect on the throughput (kg/hour) and energy consumption of the feed processing equipment. For example, some alternative ingredients may require a longer mixing time, thus leading to an increase in energy costs. Using alternative ingredients can also increase the quality control costs, as more feed analyses are on average conducted on unknown raw materials.
Mini-adaptations when feed formulas change
Using alternative feed ingredients can reduce the feed costs and overall production costs. But this is only true when the new diet does not have a negative effect on the feed intake, or on the animals’ performance and health. If this is the case, the cheapest ingredients may turn out to be expensive ones. The performance of animals can be negatively affected when feed ingredients that are not palatable are used. Cows and pigs are particularly sensitive to the taste of feeds (and have even more taste buds than humans and dogs). When they detect a bitter taste, the animals’ natural instinct is to stop eating, as bitterness in nature is often a sign of toxic and unhealthy components.
Some alternative feed ingredients may suffer from bitterness, and this may depend, amongst others, on the type of ingredients and processing method used. Some examples of components that negatively affect feed intake are lectins, gossypol and alkaloids. When a feed formulation is changed, the animals may need to make some mini-adaptations and this may lead to some associated small hiccups in the feed intake. This is often noticed in the beginning of the ingestion of a new diet or whenever the quality of the ingredient is slightly different (such as a different quality of DDGS – a different color), as shown in Figure 1. Obviously, too many drops in feed intake should be avoided, as this will negatively influence the overall feed efficiency and performance of the animals.
Figure 1 - Adaptation to a new feed formula can lead to a drop in feed intake.
Preventing nutrient losses due to contaminants
The performance and health of animals can also be compromised when ingredients are contaminated. The presence of molds, bacteria and oxidized lipids are examples that can lead to severe nutrient losses, reduced palatability and reduced feed intake levels. When there are mycotoxin producing molds present in the feeds, the effects on animals’ performance and economic losses can be even more serious. Mycotoxins are a particular challenge for alternative feed ingredients, and even a low inclusion rate in the diet can contribute to the final risk. Such commonly used alternative ingredients as DDGS, wheat bran and wheat millings, all have a relatively high risk of containing mycotoxins. However, all types of raw materials are prone to molds and mycotoxin formation, which depend on the weather conditions, crop production, harvest, transport, storage conditions and feed processing. There is also a lack of rapid test kits to test mycotoxins in alternative materials, and it takes longer to monitor a diverse range of variable quality materials. It is recommended to test the finished feeds more often when different (new) ingredients are used and to not use too many new ingredients at once, thus avoiding multiple challenges at the same time.
Solutions to maintain diet quality and animal performance
Several effective approaches are available to help make the right decision when using alternative feed ingredients in times of volatile and uncertain market conditions.
1. Rapid feed testing methods: Using NIR is a fast and accurate way of determining the nutritional values, which is key for the optimum quality control of alternative feed ingredients that are prone to variable nutrient contents. The finished feeds should be regularly tested for mycotoxins.
2. Enzymes: The use of enzymes can increase the digestibility of alternative feed ingredients that are prone to a high fiber content and can help to buffer the variability of ingredients
3. Mold inhibitors: The use of these in-feed products can prevent mold and mycotoxin formation in high risk feed ingredients (such as DDGS)
4. Antioxidants: The supplementation of animal diets with antioxidants can help prevent fat and protein oxidation of alternative feed ingredients that are sensitive to this type of degradation.
5. Palatability enhancers: Allow more flexible use of alternative ingredients by ensuring consistent palatability and feed acceptance, including overcoming depressed intake due to adaption when changes are made to the feed formula.
Adisseo offers a variety of solutions that are key to making alternative feed ingredients work in animal diets. These solutions include NIR services (Adisseo’s Precise Nutrition Evaluation platform), palatability enhancers, digestibility boosters and products to manage feed preservation and mycotoxins. The positive effect of Adisseo’s multi-NSPase (Rovabio®) on dry matter degradability has been shown in an in vitro trial. Table 2 shows the results of adding enzymes on the dry matter degradability and variance.
Table 2 - The dry matter degradability of a range of feed ingredients, with and without enzymes.
In summary, the use of alternative feed ingredients is currently increasing due to the high prices of such commonly used ingredients as soybean meal. However, the availability of alternative feed ingredients, such as rapeseed meal and DDGS, is still way below the previously produced volumes of soybean meal and can differ in quality.
Therefore, the quality and nutritional value of alternative feed ingredients should be carefully monitored. Variations in the protein and fiber contents, higher risks of mycotoxins and the presence of some bitter components may lead to lower feed intake levels, and to losses in nutrients. A cheap ingredient may therefore end up being an extra cost, because of the loss of animal performance. The use of feed additives (such as RovabioⓇ), regular testing of the nutritional values with quick methods (NIRS as PNE) and regular testing of the finished feeds for contaminants all help to control the problems that arise when using feed ingredients that are new to the nutritionist, farmer and animals.
We look forward to discussing our products and solutions with you individually to help you make better informed decisions when you are thinking of using alternative feed ingredients in your feed formulations.