Nutritionists have alternative options for animal feed formulations in the face of sunflower oil shortages
Street food in many parts of Europe is based on sunflower oil coming out of eastern Europe and especially Ukraine. Most sunflower meal is consumed in nearby countries, but sunflower oil is a major food staple in the continent.
The same can be said about using sunflower oil in animal feeds. Before the war, sunflower oil was readily available and, more times than not, less expensive than other vegetable oils; quality is not considered in this comparison. Thus, sunflower oil figured in many feed formulas for pigs and poultry throughout Europe.
Right now, there is a scarcity of sunflower oil for human foods and animal feeds. Other vegetable oils are not currently produced within Europe at large enough quantities to replace lost sunflower oil, and other lipid sources are already used at maximum volumes. As such, nutritionists are asked to formulate animal feeds with alternative options, some of which are described below.
Use imported or more expensive local soybean oil
Naturally, soybean oil can replace sunflower oil without any problems, even on a one-to-one basis. Their energy value is similar, if not identical, although prices can differ widely. But, right now finding any good quality oil is beyond asking for its price. For sensitive pigs, such as feeds for young animals, this is my preferred option as they cannot compensate by eating more of a lower-energy feed.
Use soap stock or other lower-quality lipid sources
As mentioned already, such products are not flexible in terms of offer and demand. Prices have risen accordingly, but supply volumes remain fixed and there is no quick remedy to increase them. In contrast, governments are already urging farmers to turn toward cereals and oil-bearing crops for next season. At any rate, such products should be reserved for mature or near-finishing animals as they are able to digest them better.
Lower energy levels
This is the most practical solution, but it takes a bit of careful reformulation. It also needs to be understood that animals will compensate by eating more, if the feed remains balanced, and their feed conversion ratio will become worse. They will also produce a bit more manure, which can be a problem – or, given the scarcity of fertilizers, a blessing in disguise for certain farmers. This is the only solution when lipids are simply unavailable.
Add an enzyme that increases available energy
That would be my last option as results depend vastly on the base cereal and its underlying quality in terms of non-starch polysaccharides and, in my opinion, on the age and species of the animals in question. Nevertheless, most studies have shown some positive effect and, if the economics justify it, then I would not hesitate to use a reputable brand to extract a bit more energy from my cereals.
Lower feed crude protein to save energy
Excess protein requires energy to be disposed from the organism. By avoiding this energy expenditure, we can save some energy for productive purposes. At least, this is the theory as, in practical terms, it is very difficult to see tangible results, especially when so many other variables are in play. Now is not the right time to reduce crude protein in any formula, unless this is the sole purpose of reformulation. So, I would avoid this route for energy-saving reasons, especially as most formulas are already marginal in protein from previous reformulations.
It must be reminded that we used to have options before sunflower oil flooded Europe, and we can always revert to those options. One such possibility is using more animal fats, but that is another discussion altogether. For now, we can use more expensive oils or reduce energy levels until longer-term solutions are established.