Digital Re-print November | December 2013

FEED FOCUS: Organic feeds: the future for sustainable poultry farming?
Grain & Feed Milling Technology is published six times a year by Perendale Publishers Ltd of the United Kingdom. All data is published in good faith, based on information received, and while every care is taken to prevent inaccuracies, the publishers accept no liability for any errors or omissions or for the consequences of action taken on the basis of information published. ©Copyright 2013 Perendale Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without prior permission of the copyright owner. Printed by Perendale Publishers Ltd. ISSN: 1466-3872

Organic feeds:
the future for sustainable poultry farming?
by Tony Little, Organic Centre Wales; Cliff Nixey, Poultry Xperience; Rachel Marsh, Capestone Organic Poultry


ost poultry producers identify feed issues and feed costs as one of their biggest challenges. Part of the problem is that the UK poultry industry depends heavily on imports, leaving producers at the mercy of global commodity prices for key feed ingredients. For organic farmers, the problem is even more acute; organic, and indeed non-GM, soya is getting harder to come by and therefore more expensive. There are also the principles of the organic movement to consider. self-sufficiency and the idea that stock should be fed, as far as possible from the farm, is one of the cornerstones of organic thinking. However, a report prepared by the Soil Association in 2010 shows that a significant proportion of feed ingredients come from as far afield as Russia, Australia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, South America and China. Clearly there is some way to go. If we want to build resilience into our farming systems, if we want quality, traceable feed at prices we can control, and if we want to reduce the environmental burden of our feed system, then it seems logical that we need to produce more of it at home. Organic Centre Wales has been working on poultry feed issues for several years. With funding from the Welsh government through the Better Organic Business project and Farming Connect, we have taken three different approaches to the problem:

Table 1: Nutritional analysis of entire and dehulled peas and beans Peas Nutrient % Crude protein Crude fibre Moisture Oil (B ) Lysine Methionine Sugar Starch M.E. MJ/kg (calculated) Meth.+ Cyst. (calculated) Threonine (calculated) Tryptophane (calculated) Arginine (calculated) Entire 19.7 4.8 15.8 1.98 1.57 0.2 3.28 45.8 11.81 0.48 0.75 0.19 1.76 Dehulled 20.2 2.5 15.8 1.9 1.78 0.24 2.55 66** 12.5 0.59 0.92 0.23 2.16 Hulls only 19 14 14.2 2.21 1.3 0.2 3.91 28.5 8.97 0.4 0.62 0.16 1.46 Entire 27.4 10 15.1 1.55 1.46 0.16 2.85 29.6 10.09 0.49 0.87 0.2 2.3 Beans Dehulled 29.9 5.4 14.5 1.57 1.92 0.22 2.7 33.6 11.14 0.58 1.04 0.24 2.74 Hulls only 11.9 42.1 13.6 0.83 0.4 0.03 2.2 5.9 3.4 0.12 0.22 0.05 0.57

• Growing better quality cereals and fostering direct relationships between arable and poultry producers • Improving the quality of our homegrown protein crops such as peas and beans by dehulling the grain

Table 2: Opportunity prices of dehulled peas and beans in various rations Turkey starter Peas entire (£/t) Peas dehulled (£/t) Beans entire (£/t) Beans dehulled (£/t) 391 440 343 414

Turkey grower 439 514 395 514

Broiler finisher 274 383 101 255

Chicken layer 307 359 221 302

26 | November - December 2013


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Table 3: Field observations 25 September 2 October 10 October 16 October Most flowers brown and ready to be harvested. Some have lodged. Stems are becoming yellow. Many flowers were missing their outer brown layer. Seeds detached flowers very easily

Most flowers still yellow. A lot of the seeds white inside & immature. Larger heads were dryer and therefore easier to sample.

Flowers rapidly becoming browner. Bigger heads are starting to droop. Great variation in head size. Sampling much easier as seeds become drier.

Flowers have developed a lot; very few yellow petals left. Seeds detached very easily. Foliage yellowing but still very leafy and lush.

• Exploring opportunities for growing new crops such as sunflowers

Naked oats as a quality poultry feed
Naked oats are varieties that thresh free from their husks during combining, increasing the density of nutrients and offering real advantages to pigs and poultry. They have a high energy content (over 16ME in new varieties) and crude protein values at up to 14.8 percent, but it is perhaps their amino acid profile, which closely matches the requirements of the birds, that makes them so attractive as a feed. So can they be successfully grown in Wales, and are the nutritional benefits realised under its conditions? Oats are good competitors against weeds, tend to be disease resistant and thrive under lower fertility conditions, all of which makes them particularly well suited to organic systems in marginal growing areas. The growers we worked with had positive experiences on the whole, although the poor summer of 2012 meant that some had to take the grain unripe and crimp it, or even take it as wholecrop silage for ruminants. However, the main drawback is yield; oats generally have lower yields compared to other cereals, the absence of a husk means that the yield of naked oats is only about two-thirds of husked varieties. The lower yield, however, can be offset by an increase in nutritional value – by establishing direct links between arable and poultry producers it is possible to recognise and reward this. At the same time, these direct relationships can improve the supply of quality, traceable organic feed from Wales, reduce the carbon footprint of the enterprise and bring the production systems closer in line with organic standards.

Improving our protein crops
Dehulling improves the quality, and therefore the inclusion rates, of homegrown protein crops such as peas and beans. It is certainly not a new idea, but we

wanted to look at it in the context of farmers processing their own crops. We analysed the nutritional content (Table 1) of entire and dehulled grains and used this information to calculate the opportunity price in ‘least cost’ formulations for different poultry rations (Table 2). We confirmed that dehulling does indeed increase the nutritional value of peas and beans as a feed ingredient, especially with respect to key amino acids. At November 2012 prices for feed ingredients, the associated economic benefits varied between diets. They were greatest in turkey diets (which are higher in protein) and broiler diets and more marginal for layers. Two things could increase the attractiveness of dehulling. Firstly, the likely prospect of a medium-tolong-term increase in organic soya prices, and secondly the development of a market for the separated hulls. This could be as a ruminant feed or poultry litter to replace wood shavings, which are becoming increasingly expensive. The cost of purchasing dehulling and seed cleaning equipment (in the region of £15,000 to achieve through-

put of 1.5-2.0 tonnes per hour) and the running costs of the machine, estimated about £19 per tonne, also need to be factored into the calculations. Structures to enable farmers to share facilities, for example machinery rings, could help to bring down the cost of the former.

Sunflowers as a feed crop
Wales does not often appear on the list of sunflower producing countries so this

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Table 4 Nutritional content of sunflower seeds over the ripening period Sample 1 (25/09/2013) NDF Crude protein Crude fibre Moisture Total oil (B) Sugar Starch Phosphorus Non Phytate P Lysine Methionine Cystine Threonine Arginine 0.18 0.06 0.03 0.1 0.13 0.05 0.14 0.04 0.11 4.6 1.8 3.2 86.9 2.06 1.31 0.4 0.09 82.5 2.3 Sample 2 (01/10/2013) Sample 3 (10/10/2013) 6.1 3.1 3.3 73.4 0.73 1.1 2.3 0.13 0.05 0.21 Sample 4 (13/10/2013) 6.3 3.6 3.6 71.8 13.09 0.27 2.7 0.16 0.07 0.15

25 September and 17 October 2013, made field observations on each occasion (Table 3) and analysed each batch for nutrient content (Table 4). In the event, 2013 was not a good year for sunflowers. They need a warm soil (6-8 °C) to plant into, and in a ‘normal’ year you would expect the UK to get up to those temperatures in late March/early April. With March 2013 being the second coldest on record, it was mid-May by the time temperatures had become high enough. Even the warm summer could not make up for the lost time, and we were not able to get the grain harvest we had hoped for. Even so, the experiment yielded some important and interesting data.

Our biggest problem was high moisture content, still over 70 percent on the final sampling date. Indeed, Sample 2 deteriorated so rapidly it was only possible to get limited data from it. Had we been able to plant the crop in early April, the ripening period would have coincided with the warm, dry months of August and September and the moisture content would have been much lower. Even so, growing for feed instead of oil implies harvesting unripe, so even in ‘good’ years, moisture content is likely to be higher than cereal crops and the crop will usually need to be dried after harvest. Alternatively it could be crimped and fed as whole grain. In terms of nutrient content, the high moisture levels depressed the proportion of other nutrients. In order to draw comparisons with commercial sunflower meal, we adjusted the nutrient levels to be consistent with a 12 percent moisture content (Table 5), presuming that the crop would be dried after harvest. Levels of protein in the seeds were significantly lower than that of commercial meal, even when adjusted to a 12 percent moisture content. The crop from which the meal was derived was probably dehulled, and this could account for some of the difference, but even so, it seems unlikely that growing sunflowers will contribute much to increasing the supply of home-grown protein. But if they were disappointing with respect to protein, they were surprisingly promising with respect to energy. Adjusted for 12 percent moisture, the oil content was up to 40 percent by the final sampling date, much higher than we had anticipated under Welsh conditions. Starch, for reasons that are not immediately obvious, was nearly three times that typically found in meal. On the final sampling date the seed had an estimated ME of 17.3 MJ/kg, compared to 6.2 MJ/kg for meal. This nutrient profile means that sunflower would really complement field beans: whereas sunflower is high in ME, beans are low; sunflower is strong in methionine and weaker in lysine whereas the opposite is true for beans.

may, at first, seem an odd choice of crop to look at. This is because practically all sunflowers are grown for their oil, most of which is synthesised during a long, hot, dry period at the end of the crop’s development. But if the primary purpose of growing the crop is for feed, then a number of different factors come into play, potentially allowing us to grow sunflowers under a much wider range of conditions. Oil is produced partly at the expense of the protein so, from a feed perspective, the ideal time to harvest is when it is slightly unripe. This means that we don’t

need the long, hot, dry ripening period, and if that is the case, can it be grown in useful quantities here? We ran a simple trial, funded by Farming Connect, to help us decide whether or not the idea merited further investigation. There was no replication, no statistical analysis and only one site; a quick ‘look-see’, to use a very un-technical term. Capestone Organic Poultry in Haverfordwest planted 2 hectares of sunflowers on their land. We took samples of 20 heads at weekly intervals between

Table 5: Nutrient content adjusted to 12% moisture compared to sunflower meal Sample 1 (25/09/2013) Nutrient NDF Crude protein Crude fibre Moisture Total oil (B) Sugar Starch Phosphorus Non Phytate P Lysine Methionine Cystine Threonine Arginine Calculated ME 8.22 30.9 12.09 21.5 12 13.84 8.8 2.69 20.18 10.26 10.92 12 38.81 3.64 7.61 0.43 0.17 0.69 0.3 0.17 0.46 0.86 16.65 19.66 11.23 11.23 12 40.85 0.84 8.43 0.5 0.22 0.47 0.17 0.12 0.34 0.53 17.27 43 28 28.5 11 2.6 4.5 3 1 0.27 0.98 0.63 0.46 1.02 2.24 6.2 Sample 3 (10/10/2013) Sample 4 (16/10/2013) Sunflower meal (oil extracted)*

* Published data. Source Premier Atlas 2011

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Table 6: Opportunity cost for Sunflower seed (£/tonne) Diet Full fat trial seed Meal from trial seed (oil extracted) Commercial meal (oil extracted)

Broiler Finisher Turkey Grower Chicken Layer

734 210 303

381 226 235

531 435 337

We attempted to put an economic value on sunflower as a feed by calculating the opportunity cost (Table 6). We calculated this for three diets (broiler finisher, turkey grower and chicken layer) and for three products: the seed from the trial adjusted for 12 percent moisture, a hypothetical meal from the trial after oil extraction, and a commercially available meal. The broiler finisher diet, with its high ME requirement, would benefit most from the inclusion of sunflower seed. The benefit is less clear for the other two species, although it could have a role in layer rations due to their higher requirements for the essential fatty acids (a determinant of egg size) found in the oil. If offered in least cost formulations in conjunction with field beans or peas, the opportunity price of each would be increased because, as stated earlier, they complement each other. A more in-depth study, using several different sites and fully replicated experiments on each location would confirm this or otherwise. In any case there are a number of issues that need to be tackled or considered. • The moisture content needs to come

down to around 12 percent, and even in more favourable years, there is likely to be some requirement for drying, because the seed is harvested before it is fully ripe • In the context of small producers in particular, some sort of cooperative structure will be needed to reach the tonnages that will justify the necessary equipment and facilities • The crop would also appear to be valuable for ruminant nutrition. It also produces a considerable amount of stem and leaf material which could perhaps be converted into silage. • The unexpectedly high oil content means that it could be economical to extract at least a proportion of the oil. Organic vegetable oil is in short supply and expensive • The material remaining after harvesting the seed can provide green manure if chopped and ploughed in. Sunflowers have deep tap roots which will bring phosphorus and potassium to the top soil Although there are no magic bullets or overnight solutions to offer, there are plenty of ideas worthy of further consideration and development. There will come a time when the UK will have to rely less on imports and move towards lower carbon feed systems: that is inevitable. The sooner we start, the less painful that transition will be.

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