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Alternative sources of protein offer potential for poultry sector

29th September 2016 

Imported and conventional protein sources account for 56% of all protein feed materials used in modern broiler diets and 45% of layer diets in the UK. But what’s the potential for including home-grown and sustainable ‘soya’ alternatives?

There is growing traction in the industry to seek alternative, more sustainable protein sources that continue to support bird performance, but reduce the reliance on imported raw materials, such as soya. 

ABN Poultry Nutritionist, Dr Ade Adebiyi, explains that there is huge potential to use alternative protein sources in poultry diets to help the sector achieve sustainable ‘home-grown’ production that could have considerable performance and productivity benefits at farm level.   

“Global poultry production is predicted to increase during the next few years in response to a growing population and changing trends in consumer diets. But to support this level of growth, an increase in production of raw materials will be required,” says Dr Adebiyi.

There is a view that the environmental impact of the major dependency on soya and the anticipated increase in demand may not be sustainable from a global perspective.

In addition to this, the reliance on imported protein sources also exposes UK feed manufacturing businesses to the threat of changeable global market security and price volatility due to fluctuating exchange rates. Recently, the price of soya has dropped to its lowest in six and a half years, but how long will it last?

Dr Adebiyi also explains how retailers are increasingly demanding sustainable production throughout their supply chains. Marks and Spencers announced in 2010 that they wanted to be the most sustainable retailer by 2015, and during this time they’ve been working closely with their animal feed suppliers to move towards more sustainable soya sourcing.

Sainsbury’s has also joined the retailer push and pledged that its own-brand products will not contribute to deforestation, and Tesco has been working closely with the Consumer Goods Forum to achieve a target of zero net deforestation by 2020.

Sustainable sources

“There is a real need to find alternative, sustainable raw materials, and feed manufacturing businesses have a clear role to play in helping the industry to achieve this,” says Dr Adebiyi.

ABN’s continual research and development into alternative protein sources, and their focus on sustainable supply chains, means that they’re moving towards the company’s target of sourcing 100% sustainable key raw materials by 2024.

“There are a number of ’home-grown’ feed materials and new applications that are being researched and considered to help reduce the reliance on soya in poultry diets. The nutritional value of these feed materials is being evaluated to assess whether such alternatives could be long-term, sustainable alternatives to soya,” says Dr Adebiyi.

1.      Wheat and maize distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS)

Co-products such as wheat and maize distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), are one example of a feed material that ABN has been looking into to reduce the reliance on imported soya.

“Europe is the third largest global producer of bio-ethanol, and DDGS is one of the main co-products of the production process.  And we know that wheat and maize distillers are both a desirable feed source for poultry.

“The nutritional benefits of these co-products include modest protein content, comparable apparent metabolisable energy (AME) level to soyabean meal, and high levels of digestible phosphorus content.

“We know that maize DDGS can contain up to 28% crude protein, or three times the level of protein from straight maize or wheat, and an AME content of up to 12.3Mj/kg.

“The most important benefit of DDGS is that it could be sourced locally and combined with its good nutritional value, there is a potential to reduce feed costs. From a sustainability point of view, it’s a great use of a co-product,” he adds.

However, Dr Adebiyi explains that some more work needs to be done to further improve the value of DDGS as a viable feed material for poultry.

There can be considerable variation in the chemical composition and nutritional quality of DDGS between sources, but there is much less variation between batches of DDGS within the same plant. “Taking adequate care during the distilling process can improve consistency in the chemical composition and nutritive value of DDGS, and therefore there is a potential for these co-products to have a significant role in poultry feeds,” adds Dr Adebiyi.

2.      Insect protein

Another valuable source of protein for poultry, that has been widely discussed recently, are insects. Feed materials derived from insects may contain up to 70% protein and a good balance of amino acids after processing. In addition, insects can produce 150 times more protein per hectare/year compared with soya.

“Nutritionally, there are considerable benefits that may be derived from using feed protein materials derived from insect larvae, such as maggots, yellow meal worms and silkworms for poultry.

“However, there is a need to overcome a number of challenges before insects could be used in diets on UK poultry farms. Feeding processed animal protein is prohibited in the EU, and public perception is also a factor that needs to be considered,” says Dr Adebiyi.

A recent survey by Proteinsect indicated that 75% of the public were comfortable with consuming poultry that had been reared on a diet containing insect protein, and 75% were not concerned about food safely risks. “The use of protein feed materials derived from insect larvae appears to be one for the future and a lot of research is being carried out to assess its nutritional value for poultry and its overall economic value,” he says.  

3.      Protein concentrates

ABN has also been conducting research into how to derive greater nutritional value from locally sourced feed materials.

“Some of the important feed materials used for poultry contain moderate levels of anti-nutritional substances that can reduce the availability or digestibility of the nutritional components to the bird,” says Dr Adebiyi. 

“But our research is investigating how these anti-nutritional substances can be removed to create a more concentrated feed resource, that can offer several nutritional and welfare benefits.”

Dr Adebiyi explains that the use of concentrated protein feed materials, such as rapeseed meal, can help formulate diets that meet the digestible amino acid requirements of the birds. “Understanding amino acid digestibility is essential from an economic, environmental and productivity point of view.

“Ideally diets should be formulated to reduce the level of nutrients excreted into the environment to maximise the nutritional intake by the bird and reduce excess nitrogen excretion, which can cause a detrimental environmental impact.

“Again, we’re aware that soya contains non-starch polysaccharides, or NSPs, that are not easily digested by birds. Not only does this add to wet litter problems, but it’s also of no benefit to the feed and cost efficiency of the diet.

“The greater protein content concentration in feed materials, combined with the fact that nutrient digestibility in these feed materials is good, means young birds, in particular, improve their potential to achieve superior growth performance compared with traditional systems.”

“Deriving protein concentrates from potatoes is an area we’ve looked at and one that is being used more commonly in the pig sector. Although potato protein concentrates may contain up to 80% crude protein, there is a need to overcome the concern that such products may cause gut health problems in birds.

“But with research advancements in biotechnology, there is the opportunity for potato protein products to be a viable ingredient in poultry feed once these manufacturing improvements has been made.”

Research has also been conducted to look at deriving protein concentrates from cereal crops. But, Dr Adebiyi explains that, in their current form, these raw materials remain less attractive compared to protein products derived from legumes due to their inferior digestibility. “Nonetheless, protein concentrates from cereal crops may still play a significant role in poultry diets as sustainable locally-sourced alternatives.

“Ultimately, this means that producers can derive greater value and economic potential from home-grown crops, as well as reducing the need to import raw materials and the subsequent environmental and economic challenges associated with this.

“We will endeavour to increase the volume of responsibility sourced raw materials during the next few years, but we’re also looking at alternative protein sources available to the industry to keep one step ahead,” says Dr Adebiyi.   

Future sustainability

The need for alternative protein feed materials has largely been driven by the sustainability issue surrounding commonly used conventional protein feed materials.

Research has identified that there is potential for considerable and significant gains to be seen in bird performance from making the switch to these alternative feed sources. But, Dr Adebiyi also discusses how these products fit with ABN’s target of sourcing 100% sustainable key raw materials by 2024.

“The drive for efficiency and sustainability has recently gained traction across all agricultural sectors on a global scale.  The need to reduce the reliance on conventional raw materials needs to happen in the next decade, particularly within the poultry sector, to ensure the longevity of global supplies.

“Feed formulation, bird nutrition and management are improving all the time. But continued research into alternative feeds is key to ensure that the knowledge and evidence is available to allow changes to be implemented that are going to have a positive result for the industry – both in terms of productivity and profitability,” says Dr Adebiyi.