Feed accounts for up to 70% of the total cost of poultry and swine production. An effective system to evaluate feed ingredients is critical to ensure manufactured diets meet the targeted nutritional needs of animals at the lowest cost. An under supply or over supply of nutrients is not cost effective and can greatly influence financial returns.

Feed is made up of many ingredients, which are grouped into ingredients providing energy (fats, oils, and carbohydrates), protein (amino acids), vitamins, and minerals. Cereal grains such as corn, wheat, and barley will be used to mainly provide energy. Soybean meal, extruded and expelled soybeans, canola meal, and poultry byproduct meal are used in diets to mainly provide protein. Ingredients must be evaluated for their nutrient content to help establish the amount of each ingredient to be included in the diet. Most
importantly, if ingredients are not evaluated, it is impossible to tell if the ingredient is suitable to be used in feed.

Within an ingredient, nutrient content can vary significantly from one supplier to the other. For this reason, it is important to determine the nutrient content of an ingredient by supplier. Nutrient content of an ingredient can also vary by season and year. Cereal grains, like corn, fill out ears poorly in drought years, which can reduce quality. New crop corn and soybean meal derived from new crop soybeans typically have a different nutrient content than corn and soybean meal from a previous year’s crop.

Feed ingredients used in animal feeds must meet all guarantees and any pre-determined buying specifications. These guarantees include both physical and chemical parameters. The physical evaluation provides preliminary information on the quality of the ingredient. It involves assessing physical qualities such as weight, color, smell, and whether the ingredient is contaminated with foreign material. This physical evaluation typically occurs in the ingredient receiving area of the feed mill and is a key step in the quality evaluation of a feed ingredient.

Chemically, feed ingredients are made up of water and dry matter. The dry matter portion of ingredients contains both organic and inorganic compounds. The organic part of ingredients is composed of mainly carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and fat. The inorganic part is made of minerals (ash). Feed ingredients can be analyzed to determine values for each of these components.

Feed ingredients are chemically broken into the different components described above. However, to determine the suitability of ingredients for poultry and swine, it is necessary to break these components into smaller fractions. For example, proteins are made of amino acids. Poultry and pigs don’t actually have a requirement for protein, but there are ten amino acids required to be in the diet at specified minimum amounts. In this case, it is important to analyze the amino acid composition of the feed ingredients.

Likewise, ash is composed of several minerals (calcium, phosphorus, sodium, chloride, etc.), which are critical nutrients required at specific amounts in poultry and swine diets. Analysis of ash alone gives very little information about the suitability of an ingredient to meet the nutritional requirements of the animal. More detailed analysis of the actual minerals making up the ash component is needed. In addition, the extent of how well these nutrients are utilized by the animal (usually reported as digestible nutrients) can also be utilized in feed formulation and is determined through extensive research.

Chemical methods used to analyze ingredients are expensive and cumbersome, often requiring days to weeks to complete. However, newer equipment and procedures have been developed which enable the rapid evaluation of most materials. For example, near-infrared reflectance spectroscopy (NIR) is one technique in which feed ingredients can be evaluated quickly with minimal preparation of the sample for amino acid composition, mineral components, protein, fiber, fat, and ash.

Although the average composition of many common ingredients is known, ingredients tend to vary between batches. Finished feeds should be analyzed on a routine basis to verify that the process used for ingredient analysis results in the expected final feed. This step may not be necessary if the actual composition of the ingredients used in a particular batch of feed is known.

The most important area to evaluate the suitability of an ingredient testing program is in animal productivity. When feed is given to animals, they are only able to break down part of the feed and absorb it into the body for maintenance, growth, egg production, lactation, etc. The rest is lost through feces and urine, which are excreted together by poultry. Animal productivity defines the real nutritive value of the feed and must be measured and utilized as part of a feed ingredient evaluation program.

In summary, nutrient levels in excess of targeted levels add unnecessary cost to production while nutrient levels less than targeted levels can result in suboptimal animal performance. Both result in lower bottom-line returns. To meet targeted dietary nutrient needs, a sound, cost effective ingredient testing program is critical to meet financial goals.

For more information about our feeding programs, contact us.