Knowing the nutritional quality of the raw materials purchased at farm level and also those that are grown in the farm (eg silages) is now available for everyone. New technologies ensure that farmers can get control over the diets fed to their animals on a daily basis in order to make informative decisions that will impact their business.
Creating the perfect ration can help propel food-producing animals towards optimal nutrition, health and production, contributing to better usage of resources and sustainability. Origin and seasonality of raw materials can have a significant impact on nutritional profiles, making it challenging to know the actual quality of the product at the moment of feeding it to the animals. This can impact the performance of the animals and/or production costs putting at risk the business objectives of the farm or unit. Meanwhile, farmers and feed producers are dealing with price fluctuations of feed ingredients, due to market demands, increasing the pressure on profit margins as well.
Creating the perfect ration starts with the use of high quality raw materials.
Feed quality is key
Farm sizes have gone up in the past years, and continues to be a trend. This gives the opportunity for direct purchase / access to raw material to farms which introduces new challenges: farmers need to know what they buy from a nutritional value point of view in order to optimise feed cost and performance. When a good raw material quality monitoring system is in place at the farm or feed mill level, feed cost can be impacted significantly with savings between € 2 to 10 per tonne of feed on average. Although it is common practice for dairy farmers to work with raw materials and produce their own diets, some large pig or poultry farmers also started to produce their own feed themselves.
Overall, the diets have not changed so much, but the inclusion of new raw materials like by-products, has introduced new opportunities as well as challenges; as their quality is also variable. All of these changes in how and where the feed is produced demands that raw materials quality has to be monitored upon arrival in an easy way and everywhere you are. Having more clarity and control over the quality of the raw materials helps the farmer to select only the best feed ingredients for optimum performance. In other words, the farmer needs to know what he is feeding, instead of guessing or assuming that the quality is good enough. Any deviation from the nutrient targets specified by the nutritionist will impact the supply by underfeeding or overfeeding any nutrient. As a result, feed cost will go up or animal performance and/or health will be negatively affected. These economical losses are not perceived directly and are therefore often not taken into account.
Creating the perfect ration starts with the use of high quality raw materials. Photo: Hans Banus
Lab testing for feed quality monitoring: good, but takes time
Lab testing, including wet chemistry, is often accepted as one of the most accurate ways of analysing the chemical composition of raw materials. Feed mills often favour lab testing because of its rigorous approach. Batch samples of materials are tested in the lab to understand the chemical parameters of feed, such as the level of moisture, protein or starch they contain. The results enable them to monitor quality and take nutritional decisions. This testing process, however, is costly and lengthy which doesn’t make it an accessible or a viable option for many farmers.
New portable innovations with NIR
The development of new technologies in the area of raw material feed quality evaluation allows for monitoring at farm level to streamline this process and make it cost-efficient. Therefore, an increasing number of farmers are moving towards mobile precision feeding solutions, such as near infrared technology (NIR). NIR technology has already been identified by feed producers as an accurate and quick solution for feed and raw material analysis, providing cost-effective and easy access to real nutrient values in their purchased raw materials. The technology can be used to scan raw materials or silage and provide detailed information, comparable to traditional lab analysis. Although this NIR technique has been used on a large scale at feed producers and large size integrators, until recently the application has not been available for professional farmers. The technology is now accessible for farms of every size with the introduction of the NutriOpt On-site Adviser from Trouw Nutrition. It can analyse feed samples in minutes and, through its powerful nutritional database, provide practical solutions for farmers to optimise their ration and their business.
How does it work?
The NutriOpt On-site Adviser is a handheld scanner, combined with a mobile app. Once both devices are connected, which takes a matter minutes, anyone, can have the nutritional report (energy and protein, fat, fibre, amino acids, etc) of a defined raw material displayed on their smartphone. With the information of the report, the farmer can already assess how the different nutrients deviate from the targets set by their nutritionist. This is possible thanks to a coloured bar placed next to the actual nutritional value. The bar represents a target range (minimum and maximum levels) of the defined nutrient, and the measured value is also placed inside of the bar helping the farmer to, on the spot, evaluate in a quick and accurate way what to do. When measured values are outside of the recommended range, an attention dot is displayed, so action can be taken immediately. With a simple click, the report can be shared with any person, to request further advise helping in a close contact between the farmer and the consultant/nutritionist. This means that farmers and suppliers, as well as their consultants, can scan samples on-site on every batch, giving them more control over quality consistency, performance and costs using good quality data.
Author: Ainhoa Perojo Gutierrez, Trouw Nutrition