Today, most additives are marketed with several claims. Even enzymes that have absolutely nothing to do directly with gastrointestinal health are often marketed with indirect (albeit, true) health claims. Many nutritionists and producers use many additives to compensate for the low-health status of certain farms. This is counterproductive, as the real problem is not resolved, but rather more money is spent on the wrong cause.

Instead of buying one more additive, it is better to resolve the real issue of low-health status. Of course, certain additives have become almost indispensable, even at the best farms, because we tend to produce animals under conditions that no longer resemble their natural environment.

There is a misconception that some additives work with high efficiency in every farm all the time. This is not true. Even antibiotics are sometimes ineffective, for example, against certain strains of hemolytic Escherichia coli. So, each additive must be tested to verify that it works under the specific conditions of each farm – especially those additives that are aimed toward gastrointestinal health. Other additives, such as phytase, work with most typical diets that contain phytic acid, but non-starch polysaccharide (NSP) enzymes work best in diets with cereals high in NSP; good quality cereals benefit little from NSP enzymes.

All additives are not created equal

In addition, there is the problem of having to select the same additive among different manufacturers. Are all additives the same? Certainly not. For example, an enzyme that is heat resistant is better than one that is not, if the feed is going to be pelleted. Otherwise, if the feed is going to be fed in meal form, it does not pay to buy the more expensive, heat-resistant, enzyme.

Unfortunately, public agencies, such as universities and research institutions, no longer conduct trials in which they can compare additives. In Denmark, there is a cooperative organization that works along these lines, but their results can only be applied under Danish commercial conditions. Lamentably, such initiative is the exception anymore. Instead, animal producers depend on additive suppliers, premix suppliers and consultants to provide them with such information, which is very valuable, but it lacks the power of comparative information based on research trials from independent research institutions.

Testing, testing

The solution smaller producers follow is to test one additive after the other. One month, they might try this enzyme from this company and the next month they will try that enzyme from that company. This is not ideal, but it helps. Nevertheless, if the animals get sick, or if the weather becomes better (or worse), or if the pipelines burst and the animals remain with little water for a couple of days, or if the source of cereals changes from national to imported grain, then the test (which was of very limited value to begin with) becomes totally useless. It is also a very costly way to test additives, because the majority of commercial products are suitable only for very specific applications, and not for all farms. Of course, large producers enjoy the benefits of having their own test facilities and, as they pay dearly for the privilege, they understandably don’t feel inclined to share their results with the rest of us.

Less is more

Finally, a few words need to be said about the issue of using many additives and never removing them from the feed formulation. In my experience, as a nutritionist and consultant, I have seen formulas with up to 40 additives (not counting natural ingredients). This was a single case, but I have seen plenty formulas with 10-20 additives, although the majority of the feed formulas that I review each week contain between 5 and 10 additives. In my opinion, only 4-6 additives are needed if the formula is well balanced and the animal health is above average.

So, having a periodic review of feed formulas is something that is highly recommended. Every six months, each additive used must be questioned. For example if, six months ago, a xylanase enzyme was added because the formulas were based on imported wheat, and today the formulas contain maize or barley, this enzyme needs to be removed (for maize) or replaced (for barley). Likewise, if animals were scouring and an additive was used to control the problem, but later a vaccine was used to permanently resolve the issue, then the feed additive needs to be removed. In my experience, I have been able to remove at least two additives from each formula I have reviewed without any problem, while saving 3-6 euros per ton of feed.

In conclusion, feed additives can be very useful ingredients or a waste of money. Their extensive use since the 1980s has considerably improved animal performance and health. However, we must use them with caution and only as and when needed. This helps keep cost down and profitability up.