Feature: Making feed go further in a challenging year

High feed prices mean producers need to make the most of their birds’ diets. We take a look how. This article was first published in the Feed & Nutrition supplement to Poultry Business in April 2021

Last year poultry feed prices rose between 50% and 80% above the industry average, resulting in a basic feed ration reaching a five-year high. Although prices have come back a bit since then, this has been a wake-up call to many poultry producers to make sure birds are utilising all available energy in the diet.

To get a better understanding of this, we take a look at why feed prices increased so dramatically, and the options available to better utilise feed.

What’s behind the increased feed prices?

With poultry feed being made up of various different raw materials, Martin Humphrey, sales director at Humphrey Feeds & Pullets, explains the reasons behind the price increase of some of these components.

“Cereals represent around 60% of feed, and in both broilers and layers this is mainly made up of wheat. In the UK we can all remember the extremely poor planting season of 2019, which resulted in a small harvest in 2020. And as with any commodity, if there’s not enough of something, the price goes up,” he says.

“In a normal year, during harvest in August is a good time to buy wheat as there’s plenty around lowering the price. However last year, the price at harvest was still around £160/t which is extremely expensive for that time of year.”

As UK wheat continues to be in tight supply, it’s unlikely that the price will drop soon. Nevertheless, Humphrey thinks we could start to see some positive news with lower prices being offered for the new crop positions post-harvest.

“Last October was a better season for planting in the UK and farmers have also planted more wheat than usual which means we could end up with 16 million tonnes of wheat opposed to 10 million tonnes from the 2020 harvest. Hopefully, this will result in a surplus which will help to bring the price down,” he says.

After wheat, the second biggest raw material used in poultry feed is soya which is again a weather influenced market. South America experienced tricky weather conditions during planting and harvesting, meaning their harvest was delayed slightly.

“Argentina and Brazil had been growing progressively bigger soya crops every year, but as a result of bad weather, this year there is a little less available, which has kept prices firmer than we would normally see,” he says.

When looking at the demand for soya, typically China imports over 100 million tonnes per year and the UK imports around 2.5 million. For the past few years however, Martin explains that China has had a lower requirement for soya which had temporarily reduced soya prices.

“Around three years ago China suffered from a widespread outbreak of African swine fever which completely decimated their pig herds, meaning their demand for soya was lower. Consequently there was more available for the UK and at a lower price. Recently, they have begun to re-build their herds and therefore their soya demand has once again risen, although recently there are murmurs of a re-emergence of swine fever, which may change things again.

“So if you combine the weather challenges experienced in South America and demand increase from China, you can soon start to see why soya has also contributed to the price hike of poultry feed,” says Humphrey.

So how can we make feed go further?

Although we can’t change the price of individual feed components, there are things that can be done to make sure birds utilise more of the available dietary energy in the feed, helping to improve feed efficiency, according to Mark McFarland, feed additive product manager at Lallemand Animal Nutrition. 

“Energy is a significant driver of feed costs, but usually, any attempts by producers to reduce energy content in diets results in lower egg production and quality, which impacts profit margins. It can therefore be difficult to identify ways in which costs can be reduced,” he says.

One approach which can help birds extract more energy from feed is to use dietary supplementation. A recent trial on laying hens has demonstrated that adding the probiotic bacteria Pediococcus acidilactici CNCM I- 4622 – known commercially as Bactocell- to poultry feed, positively affects feed efficiency and dietary energy utilisation.

In the research, 200 31-week-old Hy-Line Brown layers were split in to four groups. Each group was fed one of four different mash diets: standard energy, reduced energy, standard energy with the addition of a probiotic bacteria, and reduced energy with the addition of probiotic bacteria. The birds had ad-lib access to water, and all diets had equal amino acid and mineral specifications. Standard energy diets were formulated to contain 2,650 kcal with reduced diets containing 2,550 kcal.

Bioequivalence was then used to evaluate the combined effect of the reduced diet and the supplementation of Bactocell on bird performance. This concept is defined by the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) as follows: if two products are said to be bioequivalent, it means that they would be expected to be, for all relevant effects, the same.

When looking at hen performance criteria (egg production, FCR, exported egg mass, feed intake), this concept displays that hens receiving Bactocell with a reduced energy diet, showing bioequivalent performance to control hens fed the standard energy diet.

“The results indicated that adding this probiotic to the diet allows for up to a 100 kcal/kg (0.4MJ/kg) reduction in feed energy, but with production percentages and eggshell thickness being maintained as shown in the figure below,” says McFarland.

“As well as these positive findings, regardless of dietary energy, birds which were fed the probiotic supplemented diet demonstrated better productive performance, and showed similar eggshell thickness to eggs from the control standard energy diet, than those without,” he adds.

By using the supplementation, laying hens can maintain optimal gut health, meaning they can extract more energy from the feed which can then be used for production.

“Although feed price tends to fluctuate, now is the time to look at options to reduce dietary energy being wasted as the return on investment is highest when feed prices are high,” says McFarland.

“There is unfortunately no way to eke out poultry feed, if birds are fed less or are placed on cheaper diets, you will pay for it through poorer performance. But by utilising tools which can help to improve feed efficiency, producers can take back some control of the most expensive element of egg production.”

Getting on top of disease control

It’s important to remember that as well as looking at the diet, attention to bird health is also crucial in optimising feed efficiency.

“The effects of disease on feed utilisation should not be overlooked. On average, it’s been estimated that feed efficiency can be decreased by between 10 and 25% in birds affected with diseases such as Salmonella,” says McFarland.

Similar reductions in feed efficiency can also be experienced when birds are suffering from nutritional or parasitic diseases.

“Effective prevention strategies are therefore really important to make sure bird health is optimised and thus dietary energy is used to improve performance rather than combat disease.”


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