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Animal feed

We innovate animal farming

Animal feed plays an important role when it comes to securing food for a growing world population. In the future, the importance of feedstuffs that are not in direct competition with human food will continue to increase. Livestock farmers can already do a lot today and reduce the amount of land required for feed cultivation with the help of efficient feed management. However, there are still some unanswered questions regarding conceivable alternative protein sources for animal feed to replace rapeseed, soya and the like.

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The amount of arable land available per person worldwide is decreasing at an alarming rate.

While around four billion people had a good 3,800 square metres per person in 1970, by 2023 there were only 1,800 square metres with around twice as many inhabitants - and the trend is continuing to fall.

The situation is being exacerbated by the growing world population, but also as a result of increasing meat consumption in the wake of rising incomes, which is leading to a further increase in animal production and therefore also in the amount of land required for livestock farming.

Avoiding food competition with humans

In order to ensure a sustainable diet for people in the long term, existing resources must be utilised efficiently and alternatives to existing food production must be found. The area of animal feed must also be considered. Farm animals currently consume around a third of the world's grain harvest and more than four-fifths of the world's soya harvest, but this must be considered in the overall context of land use and resource efficiency as well as other influencing factors. Nevertheless, direct food competition with humans must be prevented or at least reduced as far as possible.

This competition for food can be countered in various ways:

  • Biomass must be consistently considered in the order plate - trough - (trough) - tank and the highest possible utilisation efficiency must be aimed for at each individual stage.
  • Biomass that cannot be eaten by humans should first be utilised for feeding livestock.
  • Livestock farmers must control the biomass flows on the farm by knowing the harvest and feed quantities and minimising feed losses in order to reduce the amount of land required for the cultivation of fodder crops.
  • Alternative protein sources, such as insects or algae with low agricultural land requirements, can also be used for the production of feed for other animal species such as ruminants, pigs or poultry, depending on the consideration of directly feeding the non-edible biomass to these animal species.

Feed more non-edible biomass

One way to reduce food competition is to utilise biomass that is not directly edible by humans to feed livestock. The majority of agricultural biomass cannot be eaten by humans, such as that from permanent grassland that is not arable or from the cultivation of catch crops. But even with crops, the majority of harvested biomass is not suitable as food. Only just under 20 per cent of plant food from harvested products can be eaten directly by humans. By feeding the non-edible biomass to livestock, almost the same amount of food can be produced from the same arable land by livestock without competing with humans for food.

Ruminants play a special role in this context, as their unique forestomach system, developed over the course of evolution, enables them to break down complex carbohydrate complexes, which are almost indigestible for humans and monogastric farm animals such as pigs and poultry, and convert them into food of animal origin. The importance of grassland utilisation for the preservation of our cultivated landscape also plays a role here.

One challenge for the future is to optimise the feed efficiency of non-edible biomass, for example through appropriate breeding. Keyword: low input - high output. This is a challenge for plant breeders, but also for manufacturers of animal feed and processing technology.

Minimising losses from the field to the animal

Unfortunately, this is still a long way off. However, cattle farmers can already do something concrete today and must recognise their obligation to reduce feed losses on their farms as far as possible. Dry matter losses from the field or grassland to the animal can amount to up to 30 per cent and in some cases even more. Livestock farmers should therefore know how much grows on their land (gross yield) and how much of it is actually used in feeding (net yield). In other words, they should know and specifically measure their growth yields and the various sources and sizes of losses on the long journey from the field to the silo to the trough and ultimately into the cow's mouth.

In many forage farms, harvest quantities and forage losses have not yet been recorded due to a lack of weighing facilities such as their own weighbridge or due to the high time pressure during forage harvesting. Forage losses in particular are usually significantly underestimated. Sufficiently accurate forage planning can only be achieved through yield management. The following principle applies: Only those who measure can also control. If losses are reduced, less land needs to be cultivated for fodder crops or more animals can be fed with the yield from the same area. This also has a considerable impact on the economic and environmental evaluation of feed production.

Alternative protein sources as a solution?

In the discussion about avoiding food competition, possible alternative sources of protein, fat and carbohydrates for animal feed have also been discussed for several years. One focus here is on the use of insects as animal feed. Another feed alternative being discussed is plant biomass from aquatic sources, especially algae, which do not require any agricultural land. EuroTier 2024 reflects the developments in this area and presents the state of the art in alternative protein sources as a focal point at the "Inhouse Farming - Feed & Food Show" for the agricultural and food systems of the future.

Insects: Important questions still unanswered

Insects and their larvae are not only rich in protein, their fat content can also be considerable. Since August 2021, insect protein has been authorised for pig and poultry feed by supplement (EU) No. 2021/1372 to EU Regulation 999/2011. There are good arguments in favour of insects, such as the black soldier fly or mealworms, as animal feed. Among other things, they have considerable breeding potential, require little space for reproduction and in some cases have a broad food spectrum.

However, important questions still need to be clarified. For example, many insect species are direct food competitors to humans. A suitable solution here could be to utilise species that can be fed with biomass that is not edible by humans. However, this is associated with a significantly lower quality of feed and therefore also lower economic efficiency.

Double transformation losses (feed for the insects and for the livestock) also require highly efficient production of insect protein as feed. Last but not least, hygiene and safety issues still need to be clarified. For example, according to current feed regulations, farmed insects may only be fed with authorised feedstuffs and not with waste.

Algae: Less suitable for widespread use

A distinction is made between microalgae and macroalgae. Microalgae can be particularly interesting for protein production. Examples show that they can be used as a soya substitute in animal feed. Macroalgae, on the other hand, such as brown, green and red algae, are mainly suppliers of carbohydrates. However, the carbohydrates in macroalgae are in a form that is largely enzymatically indigestible for farm animals. The extent to which the accumulation of undesirable substances in the algae plays a role must also be taken into account. Large-scale use as animal feed is therefore out of the question for this important area (for the time being).

EuroTier 2024

Innovative animal feed at the world's leading trade fair for professional livestock farming

Biomass must not be wasted in order to avoid competition for food as a result of increasingly scarce arable land. For this reason, agricultural production from plate to trough must be better and more sustainably orientated. One way is to utilise non-edible biomass even more intensively and in a more targeted manner than before via livestock. Another starting point is on-farm feed management. Here, land can be gained for food production by reducing losses from the field/grassland to the trough. Alternative protein sources such as insects and algae are a promise for the future, but important questions still need to be clarified for widespread use. At EuroTier 2024, leading companies from the national and international animal feed industry and start-ups will be demonstrating how innovative feed and processes can be used to meet the demands of responsible livestock feeding.