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What do cows and chickens have in common?

Al Gunderson Published on 01 March 2012

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In late January, the U.S. Poultry and Egg Association and the American Feed Industry Association (AFIA) jointly sponsored the International Poultry/Feed Expo in Atlanta, Georgia. It is truly one of the largest and most well-attended trade shows and conferences in the world.

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Now, you are probably asking yourself, why would a show about chickens and feed have anything that would interest a dairy producer? I used to wonder the same thing, but I have come to understand that an international show like this is a place for new ideas, technologies and production practices that form the basis for future adaptation in other species.

Much of the technology we see today in feeding systems, ventilation, waste handling and nutrition got their start in the poultry and feed industries. So what is out there that might be coming your way? There were four general categories of speakers and exhibitors that were providing new information, products and services that you‘ll be hearing about.

Data management – For many years, “recordkeeping” has been a cornerstone of well-managed operations. Getting accurate, timely production and financial data is still a challenge on many farms. Getting the correct production practices done well on a daily basis is a foundation to well-managed operations.

But, with advances in computer technology, wireless Internet and cell phone connectivity, and the advent of “cloud” computing, the ability to capture, store and analyze data from remote sites is a reality. Monitoring feed and water intake, temperature, humidity and ventilation rates, animal growth and productivity on a remote basis are all possible, today, in the poultry industry.

This data allows managers to have “early warning” systems and to make decisions before a problem gets out of hand. It also allows them to analyze historical data, benchmark production practices, evaluate product decisions and to develop “what if” production models to review the effect of potential changes. This is coming fast and will be the next frontier in lowering production costs.

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Technology adaptation – The recent expo included more than 100 booths from exhibitors touting new technology. It could have been a feed ingredient, vaccine or animal health product or a processing technology, but the booths getting the most attention from attendees were the ones introducing something new.

Given the rise in feed costs, anything that can reduce the amount of feed to produce a dozen eggs or 100 birds is worth a lot more than it was back when corn was $2.50 per bushel.

It struck me that virtually 100 percent of poultry feed is amino acid-balanced – recent figures quoted to me say that less than 15 percent of all cows are fed an amino acid-balanced diet. Certainly, the difference between a ruminant and non-ruminant diet is substantial, but it seems to me that amino acid balancing is a technology that needs further adaptation.

It also seems that the next big thing in managing nutrition is enzymes, evidenced by the announcements of new products and company acquisitions. Utilizing every bit of the nutrients available increases the value to the animal and reduces waste. Again, it’s a bigger challenge with ruminants to deliver the enzyme to where it needs to work, but expect to hear about efforts to offer rumen-stable or rumen-bypass enzymes in the years to come.

Sustainability and efficiency – In addition to the trade show, the expo included a number of technical and industry symposiums. One focused on sustainability – what it is and is not. One of the key themes that is coming to the forefront on sustainability is a real focus on efficiency of resource use.

It makes sense – the production systems that use resources to their maximum are not only the most economically sustainable, but also do not waste resources for future generations.

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Isn’t that the goal? Just because you have a low-input system, does not mean you are, by definition, sustainable. Making use of resources that would have to be landfilled or discarded in some other way (which may have huge environmental costs) can also add to sustainability.

This is part of the story that all of us in the food chain need to stress: More efficient use of resources enhances sustainability and that use of resources in and of itself is not a bad thing. When looking at the sustainability of a particular product, involving all the parts of the food chain is also important. A highly sustainable production practice located a world away might be less sustainable overall than one that requires more resources to produce, but less to store and distribute.

Traceability and third party certification – Like it or not, this show is coming to your operation soon. The Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) and the globalization of trade in feed and food are requiring programs that certify the safety and traceability of these products.

The latest agreements are tying together programs from Europe and the U.S., so that a product or facility approved in Europe is accepted in the U.S. and vice versa. Pet food manufacturers are also developing an industry-wide certification program.

I would strongly suggest that you start to ask your suppliers what their programs are to ensure safety and traceability of the products they supply. Are your suppliers certified in a program such as AFIA’s Safe Feed/Safe Food or some other FSMA-compliant program?

I hope you have an attitude of using change as a way to improve, working to make your operation more sustainable. These four waves of change won’t wash you out to sea if you understand them and start thinking about how you can adapt to the benefits they can bring. PD

Gunderson is vice president of sales and marketing for the Vita Plus Corporation and chair-elect of the American Feed Industry Association.

PHOTO : Much of the technology we see today in feeding systems, ventilation, waste handling and nutrition got their start in the poultry and feed industries. So what is out there that might be coming your way? Photo illustration by Kevin Brown.

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Al Gunderson
Vice President
Sales and Marketing
Vita Plus

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