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Feed efficiency: The use of microbial fermentation systems

Kyle McKinney for Progressive Dairy Published on 11 December 2020

When we consider the future of food and feeding the population, we also must consider the fact that we will have to produce more food in the next 30 years than we produced in the history of mankind.

When we read about the future of food, we see the positives and we see the challenges, the opportunities and some downright scary aspects, such as not having enough calories – not having enough food. And when we look at our feedstuffs and look at how much we lose in terms of nutrients and calories when we’re feeding our animals, it’s an enormous opportunity.

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As we explore the livestock industry, some of the biggest challenges we usually face are the rising cost of feed, which can account for up to 70% of total production expenses and sometimes even the lack of available commonly used feed ingredients. Furthermore, around 25% of available nutrients cannot be fully utilized by the animal due to anti-nutritional factors in the feed.

So today more than ever, the greatest challenge of the feed industry is to maximize feed efficiency based on nutritional and economic factors that often vary and may be unique to each production system.

Getting the most out of our diets

The focus of the feed industry has always been on getting the most out of our diets. To do that, we have to consider that there are lots of components in a diet that trap nutrients – lots of variations of fiber, if we want to go that simple. To break all those fibrous components down, we believe it takes many enzymes.

Enzymes are well-known to be an effective solution to optimize feed efficiency. Exogenous enzymes are commonly added to animal diets to improve the nutritive value of feed ingredients; optimize animal health, welfare and performance; increase feed efficiency; reduce excretion of nutrients into the environment which ultimately results in reduced feed cost in a sustainable way.

Over the past 20 years, feed enzyme utilization has evolved. As feed diets have become more complex to combat the rising costs of traditional feed components, enzymes have been added with the expectation that they will maximize the nutrient availability of feed for improved animal performance. Enzyme characteristics can vary widely depending on the microbial strain from which they are sourced and how they are produced.

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A unique fermentation system

The majority of feed enzyme production originates by using both bacterial and fungal micro-organisms produced either from submerged fermentation (SmF) or solid-state fermentation (SSF) processes.

Solid-state fermentation is an ancient technology that utilizes a non-GMO organism, a fungus, and then grows that fungus on a high-fiber feedstuff to produce a host of natural enzymes designed to break down grains and feedstuffs. The approach of utilizing SSF is to produce an enzyme complex to work on the many fiber substrates in a diet. It doesn’t focus on just one or two but rather a dozen or more of these substrates that are trapping nutrients. They can be broken down to determine the most benefit in terms of nutrient availability for the animal.

Since its first use in the production of fermented foods, SSF technology has been subsequently adapted to address a wide range of commercial needs. The most recognized and, possibly, the most important modern application of SSF technology is enzyme production. The potential of SSF for commercial enzyme production has been extensively researched over the past 20 years. SSF systems can be tailored to address specific needs based on the substrate and microbial selection. For example, Aspergillus niger produces a complex of enzymes that contain phytase, xylanase, cellulase, protease and beta-glucanase. These enzymes, both as individual applications or as a concoction of enzymes, have a broad spectrum of industrial applications.

The role of enzymes in the feed industry

Enzymes play a key role in the animal’s digestive process. Although digestive enzymes are produced by the animal itself – or by naturally occurring microbial organisms in the animal’s digestive system – producers have also used exogenous feed enzymes for nutrient utilization and improved performance in animal feed.

Performance and profitability are often the primary reasons for utilizing feed enzymes, as the direct result of the improved digestibility and the increased availability of nutrients like phosphorus, carbohydrates and amino acids and, therefore, an increase in available energy as well.

However, feed enzymes also allow for the use of a broader range of feedstuffs that can offer flexibility in the formulation of the diet by using non-conventional sources or alternative raw materials. Non-conventional dietary sources can be used to reduce feed cost – however, might not be as readily digestible because the animal may lack the necessary endogenous digestive enzymes and, therefore, will glean less nutrition from the feed. The utilization of exogenous enzymes to make the feed more digestible increases the nutritional value of these non-conventional feed sources for the animal.

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When enzyme products are fed to ruminant animals, feed enzymes assist the rumen microbial population by improving nutrient digestibility in the rumen. The improved digestion provides the opportunity to maintain or improve ruminant performance on less dry matter intake (DMI).

Looking to the future, enzymes are going to be critical

In the last 60 years, we’ve accomplished amazing feats in agriculture of producing more meat with less land. Moving into the next 30 years, who knows how much more additional land we’ll free up for grain production to produce more protein? The SSF enzyme technology and enzyme complex is going to be critical for the simple fact that we’ve got to get more efficient because we’re going to have to produce more meat and protein to feed the population.

Adding enzymes to animal diets reduces the amount of raw materials such as soybean meal, oil and phosphates needed, enhances the use of alternative raw materials and helps increase the production yield for limited arable land. Enzymes also help lower the manure output in terms of the excretion of nitrogen and phosphorus while also helping producers save money by reducing the feed cost per ton. This is what we call a triple bottom line 3P’s approach – good for the performance, planet and, ultimately, your profit.

When looking at feed options, the use of enzymes has emerged as an important contribution toward a solution for increased sustainable animal production. Together, we can maximize feed efficiency.  end mark

PHOTO: Mike Dixon.

Kyle McKinney
  • Kyle McKinney

  • Global Director, Enzyme Management Platform
  • Alltech
  • Email Kyle McKinney

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