Regular raw material analysis helps to combat increased production costs

By Anna Garber

AB Vista Technical Manager

Animal protein production plays a crucial role in ensuring food security and is vital for the majority of the expanding global population. Feed accounts for about 70% of the costs of animal production. At present, feed costs are growing due to environmental, logistical and geopolitical challenges. Average global price of feed and feed ingredients is up 35% year on year and remains the largest variable for the industry. Maintaining efficiency of feed production is important to ensure the farm business is profitable and sustainable. This means assuring feed composition is exactly on target, delivering the right nutrients in the right amounts: no more, no less.
Considerable variation in raw materials’ nutrient content due to various factors such as geographical region, season, soil, cultivars, harvesting and post-harvesting conditions and processing all contribute to the uncertainty in feed formulation. Hence, nutritionists maintain safety margins in the feed formulas and avoid reduced performance if nutrient requirements of the animals are not met due to nutritional variability of the feedstuffs. This is an attempt to avoid economic losses due to poor performance, however, economic losses are still present due to the increased cost of the raw materials.
Accurately knowing feedstuff quality is a main factor that enables better raw material purchase decisions and optimisation of the rations to meet nutrient requirements of the animal without oversupplying nutrients. Within the diet specification some ‘safety margins’ are often, either explicit or not, included. Not only do “safety margins” contribute to increased environmental emissions and financial losses, excess of nutrients may also result in unrequired nutrients causing nutrient imbalances and undesirable fermentation in the gut, hence reducing animal performance.
Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) is a well-established method that has been used to analyse animal feeds and raw materials for more than 40 years. It is non-destructive for the sample, meaning that the same sample can be re-analysed if needed. NIRS detects the wave length that is reflected from the sample to measure the absorbance of the sample. This data is then analysed using robust calibrations from multiple samples of the same type of material to provide the result. NIRS is also fast and inexpensive compared to wet chemistry, providing an opportunity for more samples to be analysed for better predictions. Increased sampling frequency and quicker availability of results means that NIRS can give a much better understanding of the actual raw material composition. Understanding raw materials not only aids precise feed formulation but also enables cost savings through informed decision making when selecting raw material suppliers.
NIRS is widely used to predict the nutritional composition of raw materials and complete feeds, predicting traditional parameters such as moisture, ash, starch, protein, fat, fibre fractions (ADF and NDF), crude fibre, sugars. At AB Vista, we went further with improving our calibrations and including more sophisticated predictions for: urease; reactive and total lysine in protein sources, which allows to access quality of SBM; amino acids; in vivo energy values in cereals for pigs and poultry; phytic P; and non-starch polysaccharides (NSP).
Reactive lysine is the portion of the total lysine which remains chemically intact following heat treatment and thus can be metabolised by the animal. Measuring reactive lysine can be used to determine the effect of heat processing on protein-rich feedstuffs and therefore indicate whether these feedstuffs are delivering the expected nutritive value. Optimum reactive lysine : total lysine values are above 90%. Urease activity is the most common method to detect under-processed SBM, with industry expectation being between 0.05 and 0.3U. Detecting both undercooked and overcooked SBM is important for feed producers to discriminate low quality feedstuffs as ileal digestibility of all amino acids is compromised when SBM is either undercooked or overcooked.

Feed producers should also make sure that final feed contains the correct amino acids levels. Using actual values as opposed to table data for standardised ileal digestible (SID) amino acid content of the protein-rich feedstuffs will allow avoiding the use of safety margins and, hence, lead to further cost savings.
Variation in cereal quality can significantly increase feed costs, particularly for pig and poultry producers. Recent European cereal quality data collected by AB Vista from three countries shows the apparent metabolizable energy (AME) level in wheat displayed a range of about 150 kcal/kg. There is a similar trend in barley. The potential for economic gains with 150 kcal/kg variation can represent considerable savings during diet formulation. Knowing the level of AME coming in or from different supplier options would enable cost savings in the formulation.
Better understanding raw materials through NIRS not only helps to avoid financial losses due to high safety margins, but also defines what additives and in what dosage are most suitable for a particular formulation. For instance, it is essential to know the phytic P content of a diet to decide what phosphorus matrix for phytase can be added to maximise its value. Phytase requires a substrate for it to act upon and when we are moving to nutritional strategies that are based on high phytase inclusion levels in the diet such as maximum matrix nutrition (MMN) we first need to make sure enough phytic P is present in the diet to use higher or full matrix for phosphorus. MMN is a targeted enzyme application where a combination of a higher dose of phytase with either stimbiotic or xylanase is used and the nutrients thus released are counted as matrix values to reduce the cost of the diet. A matrix considering minerals, amino acids and energy is applied to the combination of enzymes which provides greater cost savings while maintaining productive performance. When we move from standard doses of phytase to MMN it is more important to know the phytic P level to decide how much P we can liberate from phytic P to replace inorganic P sources such as dicalcium phosphate (DCP) or monocalcium phosphate (MCP) in the feed.
By using NIRS and the information it provides us with, we can start to make better informed economic decisions that will help to maximise profitability. However, the information that NIRS can provide us is not limited to cost reductions. In AB Vista we have developed soluble and insoluble NSP calibrations to better understand fibre fraction of the feeds. Being able to measure feed ingredients rapidly through NIR may enable us to link these fibre fractions with animal performance. Though exact fibre requirements for monogastrics currently do not exist, NIRS allows us to create a database that we believe can allow us to identify the best criteria to look at in fibre analysis. The experience we are accumulating should further aid in determining the most relevant criteria in order to properly use fibre and be able to optimise it in feed formulations.
Whilst NIRS serves as a useful everyday tool for feed analysis in order to reduce costs of the feed formulations, it can also improve our understanding of the feed materials using more advanced parameters. These new calibrations for more advanced parameters will further optimise nutritional recommendations for fibre, use of additives and energy contributions.
For further information or references please contact emea@abvista. com or visit