Poultry Profitability: 5 Keys for Enhancing Feed Efficiency.

Published on: June 22, 2023
Author: Biochem Team
Time: 7 min read

Feed efficiency is a key factor that affects the profitability and sustainability of poultry production and the improvements in this metric over the past 50 years have been remarkable—mainly driven by genetic selection, nutritional strategies, and management practices.

This means less feed consumption, lower production costs, and less environmental impact. However, there may still be room for improvement to optimize feed efficiency while reducing the feed costs and environmental effects of poultry farming.

1) Vitamins.

Vitamins represent a small portion of the cost of poultry feed, but are essential for optimal growth, health, feed efficiency, and reproductive function. Naturally occurring vitamins in raw materials vary widely and rarely meet modern production requirements.

Vitamins have traditionally been added to poultry feeds based on the knowledge that some vitamins are deficient in the raw materials, and some are lost during manufacturing and storage. Since the cost of these nutrients was relatively low, it was not too much of a burden to be generous with vitamin supplementation.

Today, however, it is not so simple. Vitamins are becoming more expensive. We also have a better understanding of how to protect sensitive vitamins. Vitamin recommendations for poultry are based on studies that are more than 30 years old and are outdated.

This can lead to subtle vitamin deficiencies that are difficult to detect because they can cause suboptimal performance in growth, feed efficiency or egg production; losses that are often attributed to other factors, such as poor management, intestinal problems, or stress.

2) Trace minerals.

As with vitamins, the understanding of the exact trace mineral requirements of modern poultry is limited. The same outdated recommendations apply. Recent research on trace minerals indicates current recommendations are inadequate for modern poultry and that supplementing trace minerals can improve economic returns—especially in high-density operations.

Trace minerals are often over-fortified in poultry diets as inorganic trace minerals (sulfates or oxides) because of their relatively low cost, wide margin of safety, and to compensate for low bioavailability. This practice often results in increased mineral excretion and can cause environmental contamination. Organically bound trace minerals have emerged as a solution.

Organic trace minerals improve trace mineral bioavailability and absorption with reduced excretion and improved performance. Several studies show that substituting organic minerals for inorganic minerals improves feed efficiency, regardless of the dosage and type of organic mineral tested.

Plus, you may get better results with less! Lower concentrations of organic minerals—up to 50% less—could achieve similar growth and performance as 100% of the recommended levels of inorganic trace minerals.

3) Enzymes.

Enzymes break down complex molecules into simpler ones and are used to improve the digestibility and availability of nutrients in feed. Enzymes can be broadly categorized into microbial phytases for phytate degradation; multi-carbohydrases for viscous cereals such as wheat, rye, and barley; xylanases for non-viscous cereals such as corn and sorghum; and proteases to support protein digestibility.

Ultimately, the choice of enzyme depends on the substrate available, and this is increasing with the use of by-products in poultry diets. However, because nutrients in food are structurally complex, enzyme cocktails, rather than single enzymes, should be considered. Using combinations of enzymes results in improved feed efficiency by increasing the digestibility of macronutrients and allowing for flexibility in response to the availability of different ingredients.

4) Probiotics.

It is well known that a key to improving feed efficiency in any animal is a healthy, well-functioning intestinal tract. In addition, a robust microbiota is essential to a healthy GI tract. As such, beneficial microorganisms have long been used to improve gut health in production animals.

Probiotics have multiple mechanisms of action—depending on the species and strain—all of which work to optimize gut functions, keep a balanced microbiota, and help reduce pathogenic microbes, leading to improvements in feed efficiency. Among the many probiotic species used in animal health, those from the genus Bacillus are widely used because of their positive effect on animal health and well-being and their ability to produce heat-resistant spores.

In addition to improving gut health, some Bacillus strains can improve nutrient digestibility. By producing various enzymes that break down complex feed molecules and improve nutrient absorption by improving intestinal epithelium structure, these beneficial microbes improve feed efficiency and reduce production costs.

5) Mycotoxins.

Mycotoxins are present in much of the world’s feed. Due to the high risk of mycotoxins to both animal and human health, most regions have regulations in place to limit acceptable mycotoxin levels. Compared to the rest of the world, the European Union has the strictest regulations for mycotoxin levels in poultry feed.

However, despite the stringent regulations, long-term exposure to low levels of mycotoxins (i.e., below EU limits) negatively affects feed efficiency. Even mycotoxin levels that do not appear to affect animal health can alter this metric.

It is known that the major mycotoxins adversely affect animal growth. Although decreased weight gain is seemingly attributed to reduced feed intake, there is a large body of evidence that connects an indirect effect of mycotoxins on nutrient digestibility and absorption. Mycotoxins have been shown to negatively affect apparent nutrient and energy digestibility, modulate digestive enzyme activity, modify intestinal morphology, and impair nutrient absorption. Given the varied effects of mycotoxins on digestion, it is reasonable to attribute the reduction in animal growth to changes in the digestive processes and the reduction of feed efficiency processes and the reduction of feed efficiency.

Bonus: Environment.

It is obvious that a major contributor to improved feed efficiency is the nutritional composition of the diet. However, there are many non-nutritional components that can contribute to bird health and well-being and improve feed efficiency.

Housing conditions are important in improving feed efficiency in poultry. They affect the physiological and behavioral responses of the birds—there is a science for optimization of the environment. This includes temperature, lighting, stocking, and enrichment.

Light is a powerful exogenous factor that controls many physiological and behavioral processes. An appropriate lighting regime, including source, intensity, duration, and wavelength (color), is critical to improve poultry growth, performance, and welfare.

The maintenance of temperature and humidity in commercial poultry facilities is directly related to bird productivity—thermoneutral environments maximize bird productivity. This is becoming increasingly important with the current climate changes.

Feed intake is known to decrease with increased ambient temperatures although it has been noted that the reduction in weight gain can be more than the reduction in feed intake indicating a reduction of feed efficiency.

This issue has long been attributed to the inability of fast-growing birds to lose metabolic heat and the physiologic effects of overheating. A balanced approach consisting of genetics, nutrition, and different management strategies could mitigate this issue.

Why is this important?

Providing the right nutrients is very important to improve feed efficiency in poultry. Today’s poultry industry is very different—new breeds, practices, and challenges merit updated nutritional programs to prevent deficiencies.

As new research emerges, the re-evaluation of recommended nutrient levels is underway. This means that current recommended levels may be suboptimal for our modern, high-performance poultry breeds and may lead to deficiencies. A review of vitamins and trace elements standards can pay off with improved feed efficiency.

In addition, today’s poultry diets contain ingredients from a wide variety of sources. The need to keep production costs low has necessitated the inclusion of less digestible but readily available ingredients in poultry diets. This means that the addition of vitamins, bioavailable trace minerals, probiotics, enzyme cocktails, and mycotoxin binders will become increasingly important in optimizing feed efficiency.

Even small changes in feed efficiency will have a significant impact on profits. An effective strategy to reduce contaminant levels in feed and improve bird feed efficiency would help reduce production costs and environmental emissions.

Is it time to examine your feed formulation?

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