New proteins

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Alternative protein sources for poultry feeds

Alternative protein sources for poultry diets are necessary in order to reduce farmers’ dependence on traditional sources of protein. Supply, availability and nutritional value are some of the necessary criteria in the search for suitable alternatives.

The poultry sector plays a vital role in improving the global food security status of consumers. Commercial and smallholder poultry enterprises are growing, thereby increasing the demand for poultry feeds. Soya bean and fishmeal have traditionally been the main protein sources in poultry feeds, but with the growth of the poultry sector and the world's population, they are failing to meet the increasing demand.

Due to shortages and cost considerations, it is inevitable that more consideration is given to alternative protein supplements to be utilised in poultry feeds in the near future. The high cost and lack of availability of commercial protein sources at times, are known as some of the main limitations of efficient animal production. In livestock and poultry production, feed accounts for the largest single cost, making up approximately 60-80% of the total cost.

Fishmeal and soya bean meal prices are on the rise. For farmers this implies that fishmeal and soya bean meal will be less accessible. This makes the prospects of utilising alternative sources of protein feasible, because they are locally available and easily accessible through most of the year.

Global supply and demand

Domestic animals continue to make significant contributions to the global food supply and as a result, animal feeds have become an increasingly critical component of the integrated food chain. Not only is the demand for livestock products increasing markedly due to population growth, but feed suppliers also have to cope with increasing safety and welfare concerns. By 2050, the world's population is estimated to reach 9,1 billion, 34% higher than what it is today.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) projects that the total global consumption of meat and dairy products will increase by 102 and 82% respectively, between 2000 and 2050. Global demand for poultry meat will increase by up to 85% and there will be an estimated 30% increase in egg production by 2020. It takes 16-18% and approximately 2kg of protein of a quality feed to produce a dozen eggs in laying hens and to gain 1kg body mass in broilers respectively.

Poultry production has been inadequate due to the shortage of and subsequent high prices of protein sources. A possible way to reduce poultry feed costs is finding alternatives to conventional protein sources that are inexpensive, efficient and locally available. Hence, there exists a need to consider alternative sources of protein for the animal feed industry.

Sustainable agriculture

Alternative protein sources are a good idea, considering the predicted growth of the world's population and poultry sector. Since the total demand for meat will probably double by 2050, supplying such a massive increase in livestock production will require more implementation of alternative feed ingredients to make the appropriate feed amounts meet the needs and sustain livestock production.

Also taking into consideration the implementation of the ban on the use of meat and bone meal, together with the predicted demise of fishmeal in poultry feeds, there is the realisation that a larger market will be created for alternative protein feed sources. In addition, greater global concerns for a more sustainable agriculture, with a lower environmental impact, are having an increasing influence on farming systems and future approaches to food production.

Hence, the need exists to find alternative protein sources to reduce land expansion for soya bean production and utilisation of animal protein sources, something which is considered to be a nuisance to humans. Considering political support is also crucial, as it continues to have a major influence on protein supply issues and the global realities of the animal feed industry.

Significant impact

For instance, encouraging the concept of "home-produced protein cropping", integrated crop management, organic farming and non-adoption of GM crops, all have a significant impact on the search for and utilisation of alternative protein sources. Table 1 identifies some examples of alternative protein sources and their crude protein levels.

Various alternatives can be appropriate in different areas, taking into account the various merits that can be attained if alternative protein sources are incorporated into poultry feed. Some areas of much-needed improvement are where conventional protein sources are at low supply and where inexpensive alternatives can be utilised in a way as to reduce costs and meet feed specifications. Additionally, smallholder poultry producers can take advantage of these alternatives and formulate suitable poultry diets, thus reducing costs and bringing them into the mainstream of poultry production.

Another area where alternatives can be taken into consideration, is where institutional policies have banned the use of certain conventional protein sources. They may aid in alleviating the crisis and hence maintain poultry production. It should be kept in mind that environmental issues are a main concern. Thus, instead of expanding for soya bean production, alternatives can aid in maintaining poultry production if incorporated into feeds.

Animal feed processing

Firstly, an adequate alternative protein substitute should have an adequate supply, be readily available, have the proper nutrient levels and be affordable. However, some of these alternative protein sources, especially plant sources, contain compounds such as tannins, oligosaccharides and enzyme inhibitors at high levels that severely affect growth in poultry.

Hence, these compounds have to be taken into consideration to determine appropriate inclusion levels. Since processing techniques such as heat treatment affect anti-nutritional factors by rendering them impotent, these compounds (anti-nutritionals) are virtually eliminated as a problem. Therefore, with some processing alternative plant protein sources may become useable ingredients.

There are numerous processes required in preparing animal source meals, which are conducted in a way that inactivates bacteria and makes them edible by poultry, something which also enforces consumer safety. The costs and effectiveness of these processes also have to be catered for. Nevertheless, the utilisation of such feedstuffs demands having sound knowledge of the nutrient composition as well as appropriate inclusion levels.

The future of feed

Within the vast tropical biodiversity, there are numerous plant resources that can partially replace soya beans in poultry diets, see Table 2. In addition, there exists a vast base of alternative animal protein sources that can replace fishmeal at different inclusion levels in poultry diets, see Table 3. More research is recommended on agronomy and the further development of alternative and novel protein supply cropping in the short and medium-term. In addition more meaningful and greater cooperation is advocated between policymakers, the feed industry, farmers and researchers to better deliver the future protein supply potential for animal feeds.

Author: P. Chisoro, Department of Livestock and Pasture Science, Faculty of Science and Agriculture, University of Fort Hare

This article is published in cooperation with AFMA Matrix. References available on request.

P. Chisoro

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