When it comes to feedstuffs, “novel” can refer to something that did not previously exist, like bio-ethanol co-products, or a new use for an existing ingredient previously not considered significant, such as soy hulls in sow diets. In feed formulation, we constantly look for such novel ingredients to reduce cost and replace ingredients that are no longer available. The latter can be a function of pricing (for example, fish meal of the highest quality is virtually unavailable in many parts of the world) or due to legislation (here, a prime example can be that of zinc oxide in the European Union).
For 2015, in my nutrition practice, I have decided to focus and educate myself on six novel ingredients that I believe will make headlines in the years to come. I cannot guarantee that all six will receive the same amount of attention, but it always pays to keep up with developments, especially when one operates globally. The goal, of course, is to find local ingredients considered little more than a nuisance that can be used to effectively replace more expensive imported products.
1. Functional fibers
This refers mostly to structural carbohydrates, but even lignin or some sugars can be part of the group. In monogastric animals, fiber in general has a negative connotation: it dilutes the diet, fills up the animal and reduces other nutrient digestibility. Although some fiber is required for proper gut motility or even basic satiety (for example, in gestating sows receiving a limited ration), nutritionists traditionally have tried to reduce crude fiber levels, especially in diets for young animals, such as in piglet and early broiler feeds.
In the post-antibiotic era that we experience in many regions today, certain types of fiber have been shown to be an essential part in modulating gut microflora. They nourish beneficial bacterial, absorb extra digesta liquidity, and, in severe cases of diarrhea, can limit nutrient intake to allow the gut to recover.
Sources of functional fiber include the traditional ones like wheat bran, decorticated oat flakes, barley and sugar beet pulp. More “advanced” sources include ingredients like apple pomace, chicory pulp, carob meal and soy hulls. In addition, there is an increasing number of purified sources, like inulin or even wood lignocellulose. Finally, a new source that merits further investigation is that of extruded soy hulls, which find applications in diets for piglets and broilers, whereas untreated soy hulls have been used occasionally in sow diets.
Using the right combination and amount of functional fibers is currently one of the few “trade” secrets in feed formulation. Personally, I have used almost all available functional fibers. My own secret recipe is based on a combination of whole-ingredient fibers that can provide food for beneficial bacteria, while at the same time they can act as powerful absorbents. Currently, I am using sugar beet pulp, apple pomace and oats in my own piglet feeds. But, I am intrigued by extruded soy hulls and carob meal. The latter I have used in past applications, but extruded soy hulls are new to me.
2. Functional proteins
I have been enthused by immunoglobulins when I completed an impossible course on immunology. Soon after, I realized that animal plasma is a rich source of immunoglobulins, and its functional properties can be attributed largely to these functional proteins.
Of course, other sources of immunoglobulins have been marketed in the last decade, namely those derived from specifically “designer” eggs, or more simply from hyper-immunized hens. Naturally, milk products are also rich in non-specific immunoglobulins, and without doubt, bovine colostrum is a rich source. From my point of view, all these products have a place in high-quality piglet feeds (surprisingly, less research is available regarding early broiler feeds), and they currently compete basically on price. Lately, there is a movement to produce “designer” animal plasma, where pigs will be hyper-immunized against specific piglet pathogens (exactly as it happens today with egg-derived immunoglobulins), but it is unlikely this technology will be cost-effective to replace competing products. Nevertheless, it is a novel approach to an existing technology.
Personally, I have always been a proponent of using a source of immunoglobulins in piglet diets. First, I have always believed in early piglet feeds that are rich in dairy products. Second, I have used animal plasma since day one in this business, whereas currently in my own piglet feeds I use egg-derived immunoglobulins. I am now on the lookout to see what this new designer plasma will bring to the business.
I call algae the ingredient of the future. Being either macro-algae or micro-algae, I strongly believe seaweeds, in one form or the other, can easily dominate animal feeds in coming years, probably when DDGS disappear. We should not be surprised if we start seeing algae replacing, at least partially, such staple ingredients like maize, wheat and soybeans. And, of course, micro-algae can be a source of vitamins and minerals that can rival traditional vitamin-trace mineral premixes (even macro-algae can do that to some extent); not to mention their high concentration in functional lipids and other bio-compounds.
At the moment, I am educating myself by following the literature, contacting relevant companies, joining appropriate groups on LinkedIn and connecting with experts at institutions. I might even attend a couple conferences on algae this year. I don’t plan on adding algae in my own products this year, as I consider it premature; and as far as high-quality piglet feeds are concerned, my approach has always been progressive, but only after I am thoroughly convinced something works.
4. Alternative forms of ZnO and CuSO4
New regulations at the EU level in late 2014 made me look for an alternative form to normal ZnO (the one we use at pharmacological doses of 2-5 kg/MT). Part of my three-project Ph.D. thesis (This was not as painful as that immunology class I had to take!) was investigating alternative forms of zinc. Such was a zinc chloride product, which worked just fine, but not only is this product currently unavailable in the EU, the dosage I worked with is also above current limits. I wonder what would be the effect if such product were used at lower levels in European-type formulas.
Nevertheless, I ended up using a highly porous form of zinc oxide that so far appears to work as good as the old one (OK, one client complained, but he is already on a high-medication regime due to his farm specifics). I would now like to see if such similar product can be found for copper sulfate, which I also use and I would like to move to something less controversial.
5. Molasses as a replacement of lactose
Molasses is not a novel ingredient, as it has long been used as an energy source, to reduce dustiness, to improve taste and to enhance the pelleting process. However, using molasses as a lactose replacement is a novel approach, although for myself this is as old as 1995 when I proposed this theory to my M.Sc. professor (who said “Yes!” Thank you, Dr. Hancock).
As it appears, molasses contains approximately 50 percent sucrose (in balance with its components glucose and fructose), and it can replace lactose without any problems (as long some minor points are considered in reformulation). Since then, I have used molasses up to 20 percent (sometimes with embarrassing results, when I forgot to use plastic-lined bags and molasses leaked out — but we live to learn).
My recent work in China, where molasses is more available than lactose, which is imported at a high premium, has convinced me that using such local ingredients can offer huge cost advantages creating superior products, especially where off-quality dairy products are used. It requires a steep learning curve and careful formulation adaptations, but for China is definitely a novel ingredient in piglet feeds.
6. Soy products
I mentioned extruded soy hulls as a source of functional fibers before, but this is not where my interest stops. First of all, I know beef calves can gorge to the point of danger when offered diets rich in normal soy hulls. Thus, I would like to know if extruded soy hulls have a similar appetizing effect in piglets and early broilers, and why not in lactating sows where we need to boost feed intake in any way possible.
Of course, soy products abound and new ones continue to come up. So, I have been intrigued by another really new product: fermented soybean meal. Some work I have seen implies that such an ingredient can replace fish meal at a fraction of its cost. Fermentation destroys the polysaccharides that exert an anti-nutritional role, but whether it can also alter the structure of basic storage proteins to reduce their antigenic inflammatory effect is something that I would be very interested to know. At the moment, I use the best quality extruded full-fat soybeans, which are very low in trypsin inhibitor activity and soy protein concentrate. The latter is not only virtually free of trypsin inhibitor activity, but the last step of its production renders the proteins almost harmless in terms of causing intestinal inflammation.
Nevertheless, fermented soybean meal might have a place in the soy blend I use in my piglet feeds, but only with more enlightening on the whole processing and possible side-effects.