Nutritionists should prepare to the future

The high prices for feedstuffs, the public debate about the competition between feed and food, the search for alternative protein sources and above all global warming force the poultry sector to take a different look at feed. Circularity and innovation should be the basis for a transition in poultry feeds.

The enormous genetic improvements, improved feed and good hygiene have resulted in low feed conversion rates in broilers and high egg production in layers. The pride of the sector provoked a counter-reaction from opinion leaders from the well-to-do urbanized society, who oppose this mode of food production. They demand slow growing broilers and free range layers.

Retailers acted on these demands and offer a wide range of eggs and  meat of slow growing chickens. The resulting larger carbon footprint, less feed efficiency and higher risk for avian influenza do not seem to play a role.  It is the task of nutritionists to reduce these negative effects.

Most poultry feeds for this type of production still consist of corn and soya. The consumer trends call for a different mindset of nutritionist. The lower protein/energy ratio’s in the diet allow for the use of less digestible feedstuffs in the feed.  An opportunity to formulate more circular diets and use locally available ingredients.

Research and innovation will be needed to optimize the use of new feedstuffs. Not only their maximum incorporation in feeds should be determined but also methods to improve the digestibility of these potentially suitable products. A wide variation of treatments is available. Chemical treatment, solids state fermentation, mechanical processing or specialized enzyme addition are potential techniques.

Insect protein has limited potential. Insects convert plant protein into better digestible proteins but  each bioconversion comes with losses. Recent experiments of Wageningen University showed that the N-conversion of Black soldier fly-maggots was 38 % . This is comparable with dairy cows. But also  24 % of the carbon was converted into CO2.

The current challenges for nutritionists cannot be solved without substantial investment in research and innovation. Without this,  the transition towards more sustainable poultry feed will be impossible.

Eerder verschenen in:   Dutch Poultry Center, VIV 2022

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