How nutrition can cut egg farms' environmental impact

How could better use of additives could help to reduce the impact of the layer sector’s feed choices?

New formulation methodologies suggest incorporating ingredients’ environmental impacts into least-cost formulations, and soybeans often carry high land use emissions. Vincent Guyonnet
New formulation methodologies suggest incorporating ingredients’ environmental impacts into least-cost formulations, and soybeans often carry high land use emissions. Vincent Guyonnet

Feed enzymes are important tools to increase the nutritional value of feed ingredients, lower costs and improve production. They also have a functional role, promoting a more favorable intestinal flora, for example. Their contribution to more efficient feed use reduces the feed’s impact on the environment. 

That layer nutrition’s environmental impact needs to be reduced is illustrated by considering its contribution to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. 

Depending on various Life Cycle Analysis studies, feeds contribute 60-75% of the egg value chain’s GHG emissions.   Direct feed emissions, account for about 57% of the total, and occur mostly during crop production through fertilizer application, fuel use in vehicles used to take care of and harvest crops, as well for raw ingredient and finished feed transport. The remaining 13% is related to land use change (LUC).   

LUC is a complex issue where a number of drivers, such as conversion of forests to crop cultivation or urban encroachment on rural land, affect soil and vegetation’s ability to store carbon. 

The most affected regions in terms of crop expansion are Latin America, for soybeans, and Asia and Africa for maize/corn. Many feed crops from these regions will carry high LUC emissions when compared to those from Europe or North America.  

Formulating rations with ingredients having no LUC impact would reduce layer feeds’ contribution to GHG emission, however, this strategy would be economically challenging and logistically complex. 

Excluding the effect of LUC, feedstuffs GHG intensity varies by crop. Wheat contributes less CO2 equivalent emissions than corn, and corn less than corn DDGS or soybean. 

 Innovative strategies

Innovative formulation methodologies are suggesting incorporating feed ingredients’ environmental impacts into the least-cost formulation of feeds. 

There are, however, still a number of issues to resolve, including the need for a degree of regionalization of accurate data on crop production, as well as the weighing method to reconcile the economic and environmental goals of this approach to feed formulation.   

In addition to the choice and quality of feed ingredients, any decision to improve feed conversion into eggs will contribute to reduced emissions per kilogram of eggs produced.  

Laying hens typically digest and utilize 80-90% of their grain-based diet. Therefore, feed enzymes, such as proteases, phytase and non-starch polysaccharides degrading enzymes, are important tools to raise the nutritional value of feed ingredients, reduce costs, and improve egg production.

However, beyond this traditional enzyme use, it is now recognized that enzymes have a functional role, reducing the presence of antinutritional and toxic compounds in the digestive system and promoting a favorable gut microbiota.  

For instance, proteases act on allergenic proteins in the rations, reducing oxidative stress and gut inflammation, and promote a heathy gut for nutrient absorption and conversion.  Enzymes, like a number of other supplements in feeds, are therefore able to reduce GHG emissions per kilogram of eggs produced.       

Feed efficiency will also be indirectly improved through better health and welfare, lower mortality, better bone strength and improved genetics, all of which will contribute to reduced CO2 equivalent emissions per kilograms of eggs produced.  

 A recent study in Canada showed that the adoption of current layer nutrition and management best practices could reduce total greenhouse gases emissions by 47%.

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