As per statistics poultry products will account for sizable portion of future food demand forecasting significant increase in global food production by 2050. Production and consumption of poultry products are projected to double in next 30 years, growth propelled by its low-cost, small environmental footprint, positive health attributes and lack of religious restrictions (Roembke, 2017). Poultry products (broiler meat and eggs) are the most affordable sources of animal proteins for all class of peoples, hence future of poultry industry is bright but such growth will be possible by advances in feeding (nutrition), breeding (genetics) and management (maintenance). The increasing demand of poultry products and lesser supply of quality raw materials for feed production are putting pressure on the farmers. Similarly, competitive industry trends driven by consumer demand for safe (antibiotic free) and affordable animal protein amidst shortage of feed raw materials is becoming a challenge day-by-day. The global population, resources, and climate dynamics suggest, we must improve sustainability of food production system, and the precision feeding of animals may be one of the ways to accomplish this goal (Liebe and White, 2019). Precision nutrition would help in effective utilization of available feed resources with the aim of maximizing animals’ response to nutrients and improve farm profitability (Andonovic et al., 2018). Hence, we need to understand the importance of precision nutrition and how such developing technologies could help in improving production efficiently in poultry industry.
Precision poultry farming
Precision farming signifies, satisfying the need of animals and crops at the highest precision to get maximum output with available resources. The more precisely the need is satisfied, the less waste will be there in the system, resulting in more economic and environmental benefits. This also helps in reduction of Greenhouse gases and ammonia emission in air, nitrates and antibiotics pollution in water bodies, phosphorus and heavy metals in the soil (Andonovic et al., 2018; Tullo et al., 2019). Precision farming, and especially precision nutrition, will help to optimise feed efficiency with positive effect on animal health, animal welfare and the environment.
Feed accounts for nearly 70% of production cost and considered as the greatest single expenditure associated with poultry production. Broiler and layers are highly efficient in converting feed to food products but still a significant amount of undigested feed is excreted. Generally, digestibility of nutrients is in the tune of 50-85% depending on the specific nutrient, therefore a significant improvement can be made to further improve the efficiency of feed utilization. To optimize the poultry nutrition, researchers are focusing on deep understanding on nutrient requirements and their fate in the body, evaluation of alternative raw materials, availability of quality feed ingredients, use of novel feed additives and formulation of nutrient rich least-cost feed. Main aim is precision farming and precision nutrition is utilizing the inputs at their maximum possible ways, lower costs and maximize economic efficiency of poultry farming.
Precision poultry nutrition
Precision nutrition intends to provide the animal with the amount of feed/ nutrients that precisely meet its nutritional requirements for optimum productive efficiency to produce better quality animal products (meat and eggs) which are also safe for consumers and harmless to climate change (Reddy and Krishna, 2009). In other words, precision feeding is the practice of meeting the nutrient requirement of animals as accurately as possible in the interest of a safe, high quality and efficient production while ensuring the lowest possible load on the environment under the given conditions. Improving sustainability of livestock production systems can be achieved through optimized reproductive, genetic, nutritional, and health management (White et al., 2014, 2015).
Feed formulation to achieve precision nutrition
The object of formulation is to derive a balanced diet that provides appropriate quantities of biologically available nutrients at least cost. In the past, we always tried to over-formulate diets due to uncertainty about the raw material quality or nutrient requirements. This practice is no longer acceptable, not only because it is wasteful, but also because excess nutrients excreted in the manure leads to environmental pollution. Fine tuning of the diets to closely match the requirements of the birds, helps to optimize efficiency of nutrient utilization. Main objective in formulation of poultry feed is production of low cost, high-quality finished products. Due to restriction of antibiotics in poultry feed, nutritionists need to understand more about the digestive tract microbiota and how to modulate it through the diets. Over the years, feed formulation has evolved from a simple balancing of a few feedstuffs for a limited number of nutrients to a linear programming system that operates with the aid of computers.
Systems using stochastic non-linear programming are now becoming popular, with commercially available formulation software. To achieve precise nutrition, use of nonlinear feed formulation need to be practiced, where formulas will depend on other variables such as age, sex, temperature, baby chick price, feed cost and/or final product margin etc. (Penz, 2019). Introduction of non-linear programming, to optimize yield and minimize feed cost in animal feed formulation, may lead to better approximation as compared to those of linear cases (Saxena et al., 2012). Use of Growth models to simulate feed intake and production parameters under given husbandry conditions are more practical to reach our goal of optimum production. Such models are effective tools for: i) comparing actual versus potential performance, which can indicate the extent of management or health problems in a flock; and ii) providing economic analysis of alternative feeding regimens. Several commercial growth models are available for predicting the production performance of both meat chickens and laying hens. Finally, feed formulations need to become customised based on need of the bird and desired output to support the concept of precision nutrition.
Factors to consider while practicing precision nutrition
Following factors have important contribution in achieving goal of precision nutrition
Feeding to genetic potential of birds: Although Nutrigenomics is in infancy, the future nutrient requirement and feeding of animals will be based on specific need of gene. In modern nutrition, generic recommendations will be replaced by customised solutions. Using nutrigenomics as a tool in animal nutrition allow us to develop new feeding strategies, thereby creating an opportunity to lower the cost of materials, improve supplementation and rapidly adapt new formulations in response to changing regulation and demand. It also allows us to identify and address nutritional bottlenecks that prevent us from taking advantage of the advanced genetics that are the key of livestock and poultry industries (Connolly and Dawson, 2015).
Nutritional manipulation of gene expression meant to control the expression of specific gene by under or overfeeding of some nutrients. Similarities in gene expression between the two primary genetics companies can be used as an advantage when it comes to the precise feeding of chickens or the ability to feed specific genes and deliver nutrients to those genes at the right time and in the right form. Through precision nutrition for example, feeding additives on exact days for a defined period to get desired changes in gene expression towards more production (for eg. chicken with more breast meat or less abdominal fat) can be achieved.
Feed ingredients: To make precision nutrition a reality than theory, feed producers need to change the way they considered feed ingredients such as corn, soybean meal, meat and bone meal (where it can be used) simply as a commodity into uniform, analysed ingredients to exactly match the desired nutrient specification. Segregation of raw materials (for e.g. based on the size of corn) and their analysis will help to formulate the cost effective and wholesome diet. Without knowing the ingredient analysis, precise nutrition is elusive, even with the best diet formulation (Penz, 2019).
Followed by ingredient selection and diet formulation, the post-absorptive processes that rank feed raw materials based on digestibility coefficients needs to be considered. Use of advanced analytical technics such as near-infrared Spectroscopy (NIR), inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) for mineral profile and Gas chromatography-Mass Spectroscopy (GC-MS) for contaminants (eg. pesticides) and in vitro assays to obtain nutrient profile and anti-nutrients provide further nutrient values to help in achieving more realistic diet formulation. We can achieve the aim of precision nutrition by more precise ration formulation based on nutritional value of each batch of ingredient, proper weighing and mixing of ingredients, novel feed processing techniques, use of feed additives, etc.
Feed additives: To make animal production highly efficient, the nutrient loss should be minimized, which means more units of output per unit of input. Feed additives play a pivotal role in achieving increased efficiency and reduced environmental load per unit of the animal product (refer Table 1). They improve nutrient digestibility, gut health, nutrient absorption and support microflora modulation thereby facilitates chicken growth with less variability and reduces environment pollution. Feed additives like organic acids, probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes and phytochemicals are used to improve the feed efficiency mainly by improving animal health and increasing digestibility of nutrients (Gadde et al., 2017). These additives are now becoming popular and widely accepted as an alternative to antibiotic growth promoter (AGP’s) in poultry production.
Feed milling: Although feed formulation is the key to produce good quality poultry feed but without properly processing the feed, it won’t bring better results. After mixing of ingredients, most poultry feeds undergo some form of processing, which involves a wide range of thermal treatments including conditioning, pelleting, crumbling and cooling. Now adays mostly pelleted or crumbled feed is used for feeding of chicken, which enhances the economics of production by improving feed efficiency and growth performance. These improvements are attributed to decreased feed wastage, higher nutrient density, reduced selective feeding, decreased time and energy spent on eating, destruction of pathogenic organisms, and thermal modification of starch and protein. Poultry producers operate in highly competitive environment and efficiency saving across the supply chain can yield great results from a relatively low investment. Other than the discussed factors, feed mill is one of the important segments which can yield huge savings when handled meticulously. By finding ways to get more from existing equipment, improving staff knowledge and minimising wastage, feed mills can often gain better efficiency and cost saving. Some of the important factors like optimizing the production process through periodic review of batching and mixing systems, reducing energy usage by keeping optimum moisture, time and temperature of conditioning will help to improve efficiency (Davies, 2019). Maintaining feed hygiene during feed production has significant positive impact on animal performance, moisture management is also important to optimize resource efficiency. Finally, the qualified staff in feed mill will help to ensure all the processes are in place and running at optimum conditions.
Next 30 years appear to be most favourable for Indian poultry industry in terms of increasing demand of affordable animal protein, but it is also challenging due to scarce resources like feed ingredients, land and skilled manpower. To meet this demand, it is necessary to transform our traditional livestock farming practices. Precision farming and feeding can help to get optimum returns from poultry industry. Animal genetics, alternative feed raw materials, precise feed formulation, novel feed additives and optimized feed manufacturing process are some of the key drivers for future development in the poultry industry. Application of nutrigenomics, advanced farming technologies, efficient feed utilization with less impact on environment are the factors to be kept in mind in order to achieve the goal of precision farming and optimum production.
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by Dr. Kumar Kore, BASF India Ltd