The role of nutrition in sustainable poultry production

From extending the shelf life of meat through to lowering manure emission, precisely formulating feed can help to raise the poultry industry sustainability profile.

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Given the impact that feed has on the environment, altering its formulation can result in significant benefits.
Given the impact that feed has on the environment, altering its formulation can result in significant benefits.

Sustainable poultry production depends heavily on measures that actively reduce the environmental impact of feed at every stage of its journey, from production through to digestion to excretion. It’s worth remembering that feed accounts for 50-60% of total egg and broiler production costs, and anywhere from 50-80% of the total environmental footprint.

Delivering quantifiable impact

The economic and environmental benefits of reducing on-farm emissions are significant, though only achievable by applying science-based solutions. There is no single solution or "silver bullet" that gets us to net zero. Rather, a combination of nutritional solutions, best practices and data precision holds the key.

Best practices and proven technologies can reduce the environmental footprint of farms in several ways, and insight based upon primary data is fundamental to unlocking these value-creating changes.

Firstly, productivity gains can be achieved by improving the lifetime performance of birds, reducing mortality rates and shrinking production-related food loss waste.

Secondly, feed formulations and feed additives that improve nutrient utilization, along with the use of alternative feed raw materials, reduce the overall footprint of animal protein.

Thirdly, understanding manure chemistry and the effects of manure handling, management, and its use and disposal, especially related to how nitrogen and phosphorus flow to the environment, factor into the footprint of animal protein.

Interventions throughout the value chain

Reducing the environmental impact of animal protein requires multiple interventions, especially during farming. Scientifically grounded nutrition and lifetime performance programs have the power to improve welfare, yield and farm efficiency — with a direct effect on reducing the environmental footprint.

For example, this is seen when reducing replacement rates and increasing the lay cycle in layers. Feed enzymes and eubiotics can boost nutrient utilization and feed conversion ratios (FCR), improving performance and reducing direct emissions. Effective manure storage and treatment also helps shrink production’s environmental footprint.

Production systems vary enormously, however. Country averages may help sketch an overall picture and establish a general direction of travel, but emissions reduction must be practiced farm by farm, and complex by complex. It is essential to deploy interventions that can be tailored to each farm’s realities.

More efficient food processing, along with measures to cut food loss and waste, also have an important part to play in reducing the footprint of the final product consumed.   

Reductions in food waste can be facilitated by extending the shelf-life of products by improving the inherent quality of the animal protein at farm level through vitamin nutrition, as well as by using bio-preservatives and smart packaging during the processing stage. In the meat sector, for example, the inclusion of vitamin E at adequate levels in the diet improves the product’s antioxidant status, extends shelf-life by 3-6 days and delays production of "off" flavors by 8-9 days following storage.  

Precision nutrition and alternative feed raw materials

Much can be done at the macro level to reduce the overall emissions associated with livestock farming. Precision nutrition permits lower protein diets, thereby reducing on-farm emissions of manure nitrogen and its reactive forms.

Furthermore, utilizing feed raw materials that lead to less change in land use along with alternative feed ingredients and co-products with lower environmental impacts balanced with precision micronutrition lead to significantly enhanced environmental footprints. Alternative feed ingredients have the added benefit of lowering the industry’s reliance on human-edible grains which aids the transition to more sustainable food systems.

 

Market drivers for net zero

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