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Enhancing Animal Feed Through Chemistry

Honored Contributor
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Contributed by Ranae Jorgenson, Analytical Chemist, Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (with contributions by Liz Morrison, Freelance Writer)

At the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute (AURI), we are all about discovering new uses for agricultural resources in order to fuel economic growth in Minnesota. We work in four main areas—biobased products, coproducts, food and renewable energy. Several of our current projects focus on using chemistry to improve the nutrition of animal feed.

Specifically, two projects I want to highlight are:

  • Producing nutritious animal feed from corn stover (corn stalks, leaves, and cobs) and,
  • Enhancing soybean meal as a fish meal replacement.

Producing nutritious animal feed from corn stover

AURI is testing a way to make corn stover and other biomass more nutritious for livestock. Why is this needed? For example, in 2012, we saw many cattle producers losing their herds due to insufficient fodder and yet there was lots of baled corn stover available, if it could be made more nutritious.

Lignocellulosic biomass, like corn stover, contains plenty of nourishing carbohydrates, but they are locked up with lignans, making them undigestable. Although the technology isn’t new, researchers at AURI’s coproducts lab in Waseca, Minnesota, are using an alkaline solution to break down the bonds and release the nutrients so they are easier to digest.

The process “takes low-quality roughages and improves the available energy for dairy cows, beef cattle, and sheep,” says Al Doering, AURI coproducts scientist, who is leading the trials. The research could add value to crop residues like corn stover and perennial grasses, while cutting livestock feed costs and expanding biomass uses.

Calcium hydroxide, or slaked lime, is mixed with water and applied to chopped biomass. The treated material, which is about 50 percent moisture, is then packed into a bunker or bag and ensiled for 30 days. The cured feedstuff can be substituted for a portion of corn and hay in ruminant livestock rations.

“This technology has excellent potential to create new sources of high quality animal feed from underused resources,” Doering says.

AURI’s preliminary results suggest that calcium hydroxide treatment boosts the energy content of some crop residues — including corn stover and barley straw — by more than half, Doering says. That would make them nutritionally comparable to medium/low-quality alfalfa hay. “We’ll need to see a big jump in nutritional energy availability to offset the processing costs.” AURI will also test the feasibility of pelleting treated biomass to make it easier to ship—but that’s a long shot, Doering says. “I see this primarily as an on-farm application—treating forages like silage.”

Soybean meal as a fish meal replacement

Soybean meal, while an excellent animal feed, cannot be fed to a whole range of animals as soluble sugars in soybean meal are very disruptive to the digestive tract of baby pigs and carnivorous fish, in particular. And fish meal, which is often used, is increasingly expensive and in limited supply due to the decline in ocean fisheries.

That’s where Protein Resources, LLC, saw an opportunity to innovate and provide a feed ingredient that the market has been waiting for. “We felt that the market was looking for a soy-based, high-protein feed supplement that could be used in a variety of applications such as baby pig diets, poultry, aquaculture and possibly several other formulations,” says John Pollock, president of Protein Resources, LLC.

Working with AURI scientists, Protein Resources developed a cost-competitive, proprietary process to remove the fiber and sugars from soybean meal, leaving a digestible and high-protein feed. The extracted carbohydrates are used in dairy and beef cattle rations. The branded feed, sold as NutriVance Soybean Meal, will be marketed domestically and internationally to hog, poultry and aquaculture producers.

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