Corn (a major source of energy in feeds) being relatively cheaper than soybeans (a major source of protein in feeds) has always been the norm. Only during these last years the balance was upset, but cereal prices have started dropping, although there is a long way before we get back to old times. Currently, we can claim safely that it is a case of soybeans being too expensive rather than cereals being too cheap. So, focus this year is shifting toward ways of checking protein cost in feeds, and this could be done in four ways, not all of them applicable in each case, but worth considering.
1. Challenge amino acids feed specifications
In my experience, as a field nutritionist, having reviewed countless feed programs, most diets tend to be overformulated in terms of protein and, consequently, amino acids. This is done to enable animals to fully express their genetic potential, but under commercial conditions, this is rarely possible for a number of reasons. So, I have always recommended challenging animals with a less dense diet, which can be done by reducing lysine by 0.05 percent points, adjusting downwards all other amino acids, and then rebalancing energy (if needed). If nothing happens, then the diets were indeed overformulated and another challenge step can be employed until growth performance starts to react negatively to further cuts in nutrient density.
2. Maximize use of crystalline amino acids
In most cases, using crystalline amino acids is marginally less expensive than using natural proteins (soybeans). But, overdoing it will bring forward deficiencies in certain amino acids that are not available in crystalline form. Thus, as a rule of thumb, crude protein can be dropped by 4 percent points (compared to a diet with zero crystalline amino acids), or, alternatively, L-lysine HCl (the major synthetic amino acid) can be used up to 0.5 percent in the total complete diet.
3. Consider early maturing genetics
This requires some considerable planning, but changing the male line to a genetic source that grows faster and/or matures earlier will reduce the dietary protein fraction used for maintenance purposes, especially during the last few weeks (or days) before animals reach market weight. The difference is not much, and a more expensive genetic material may offset any benefits, but it is worth considering. Reducing slaughter weight is also an alternative, albeit not ideal, way of reducing feeding cost as the lighter an animal is marketed, the better the feed efficiency index.
4. Experiment with proteases
The jury is still out on this type of enzyme, but now is a good time to start looking at the available literature and follow developments. Early research suggests marginal increases in protein digestibility (2 to 4 percent) that can result in reduced feed cost, even after taking into account the cost of the enzyme. But, such small changes in feed digestibility would not be of much use if diets are not trimmed first from any superfluous margins of safety.
Reducing feed protein cost is not an easy task. It may actually hamper growth performance, but this might not be that bad, if profitability returns from a net loss to below breakeven point. To this end, a growth modeling software can certainly offer useful insight.