Feed strategies in a raw materials bull market
The upward trend in the price of raw materials (RM) for about 1 year is continuing. Feed prices will therefore probably remain high, at least in the first half of 2022. Since feed accounts for nearly 60-70% of the cost of an egg, there are different strategies to limit this cost. Do no change is one, but if the selling price of eggs does not follow the price of the feed, the profit margin will be strongly affected. What should be done then?
Working with long-term R. M. procurement contracts is a good basis. A high coverage rate (= if you need 100 T of soybeans next month, and you have an agreement for 80 T = 80% is your coverage rate) ensures good long-term security. This also avoids R.M. supply disruptions, which unfortunately can occur frequently in an expensive R.M. context. Finding new R.M. in order to reduce the overall increase is also a good practice. Typically, they will be less expensive and will increase in price more slowly than the current R.M.
However, a new R.M. may require a new additive in order to optimise performance or limit the negative impact of anti-nutritional factors. This means adding enzymes or mycotoxin binders. In this case, it is necessary to calculate its Return On Investment (ROI) taking into account the low price of the new R.M. but also the associated additive, it is called combined ROI. A regular and well-targeted control plan will be the basis for properly characterising this new R.M., by definition less well-known than soy, for example.
At the feed plant, the choice (other than investing in more efficient and energy-efficient equipment) is limited to changing the presentation of the feed. Mash remains the least expensive presentation compared to crumble or pellet. In the mash presentation, a coarser grind will use less energy. Any change in presentation of the feed requires informing the farmers in order to properly adjust the feed distribution technique as well as managing emptying of the feeders. Otherwise, the risk on the farm is a marked deterioration in results. Adding whole grains for a portion of the food is also a possible option.
Another optimisation strategy is to properly control the health, particularly the intestinal and hepatic aspects, of the laying hens. Good digestion allows the nutrients present in the ration to be used optimally. The basis is of course a well-balanced feed that fully matches the animals’ needs. Insoluble fibre is a crucial nutrient enhancing digestion but unfortunately it sometimes has low availability in some countries. Insoluble fibres is beneficial for intestinal health but also the quality of the droppings. A minimum of 3.5% cellulose is recommended for cage system and 4.5% minimum for alternative systems. Many additives can also contribute positively to the overall health of the animals. They should always be tested in your local context to validate them.
In relation to the liver, safeguarding and helping it recover regularly is beneficial. This involves hepato-protective treatments approximately every 5 weeks. The liver is very much drawn upon to deposit the egg yolk so helping it with a little oil in the feed improves its health.
In terms of formulation, making an audit of the formulas and validating the coherence between the nutritional levels compared to the performance in the field remains the basic principle that should be carried out regularly. Each crisis involves questioning the value of nutritional levels and additives (already incorporated or potential). Sometimes voluntarily accepting a moderate deterioration in the results in order to save on the cost of the feed and ultimately get a profitable result can be justified! Optimising the feeds more frequently will help better track the increases in R.M., by limiting their impact, but the gain will be marginal.
All these strategies must be adapted locally to each farm. They all have positive impacts but sometimes also negative points. As always is the case in nutrition, it is a matter of finding the right compromise and then adjusting it according to the performance. Nothing is fixed, and above all not a feed formula, which must evolve according to the need of the animals and your production target. Nutrition and the farming technique must always work together in order to forward in the same direction.