Archive for July 2013

Definition on Concentrate Feed

Here we discussed the introduction of Concentrate Feed in commercial livestock production. What is the definition of concentrate feeds in this context? I am not clear on that but would like to share my own personal journey to understand.  As I see it, this has also been an evolving process from adding a few grains to supplement the grazing to controlled feeding of technically balanced rations (and sometimes not so well balanced rations!!).

As a child growing up in the UK, I remember my father discussing the effects of adding concentrates and testing them against pasture only in his dairy enterprise. He would test different fertilisers to test the mineral uptake of the grasses, he would trial different grass types to test milk yields, cow health and fertility – but his concentrates at that time were little more than barley or some other grain produced on the farm. He would cut the grass for winter conservation at a very specific stage of growth to lock in the maximum nutrients that technology and weather allowed.  He recorded everything on a herd basis and analysed the outcomes.  He had fellow farmers share their data, so the recordings were carried out on a significant scale for the period.[1] This was before supplemented vitamins and minerals were introduced into the concentrate mixtures to help balance the forages to help support the production.  We have progressed so far today that now dairy cattle fed complete rations that are a mixture of forage, grains, proteins and supplemented vitamins, minerals and any other supporting nutrients (such as additional amino acids) required will simply use the grass to sit on, when it is available to them, they no longer consume it.  These dairy cattle are fit, yield well, have minimal metabolic problems such as mastitis, lameness, milk fever that previously were common production problems and expensive when measured in lost production and remedy costs, not to mention the reduction in the productive life of breeding stock.

To conclude, the word concentrate in today's livestock production systems, can be considered a generic term that covers many different types of supplemented feed to balance with farm produced forage and/or grains.   It maybe mixed into the farm produced rations to create a complete feed or it maybe fed in addition to grazing or forage fed separately in a different format.   For ostrich production, as ostrich consume so little food for their their body weight, it is recommended that the concentrate is added to their forage in the correct proportions and is balanced to the nutrient content of the forage.   This is a reason that the feeding of chopped hay is recommended over fresh.

See the Feed Products section of here defining the different livestock production terminologies.


[1]This during the period from the 1940s to 1970s and covering some 3,000 cows in milk in own herds and similar data from collaborating producers

Food Security

Newsletter 86 - part 2

This section addressed many interesting and challenging issues focussing on the role of livestock in food security and the livelihoods of men and women living in poverty.  This is of particular interest in Ostrich production as we have witnessed a number of initiatives in Southern Africa where ostrich projects have been set up based on securing enhancement of the lives of previously disadvantaged sectors of the population.  In Namibia significant investment took place using pension fund money.  This and other projects are set up with well intentioned motives, but based on economics assuming ostrich as a producer of a high value skin rather than ostrich as an efficient supplier of quality meat protein.  As a result key production measurements such as slaughter progeny per breeder, days taken to slaughter, feed conversion statistics were ignored and genetic development rarely considered.

There are now projects under way in pig production, where proven efficient methods of production are  adapted to include the more vulnerable members of the population.  These are large scale projects, correctly funded introducing proven technology and advanced genetics.

Over the years we are approached regularly by groups in developing countries hoping to start with ostrich production projects.  The evolutionary processes the mainstream livestock species have gone through as described in this document (the FAO publication “The State of Food and Agriculture – 2009”), help explain why it is more challenging to introduce a new production specie where total world production, when measured in meat tonnage output, is no more than many single industrial pig, poultry and beef operations.

There is a discussion on the move in livestock production from pasture based systems to highly intensive systems based on by-products and concentrates.

The dominance of concentrate feeds has meant that livestock production is no longer constrained by local availability of feed and the natural resources needed to provide it.

This had led to production where the feed that is easily transportable thus driving success in agriculture exports based on their ability to produce the ingredients efficiently.  Brazil and the US are examples of this; they have also gone one step further, rearing livestock to convert that feed to low cost meat protein and exporting the meat protein. This is not a discussion on whether it is right or wrong, it is illustrating why livestock production has moved in the direction it has and discussing how it fits in with feeding the growing populations and examinaing different options to ensure sustainable and wholesome sources of food, including meat protein that is availalbe to all.

Today we live in a global village.

- It was only 500 years ago that Christopher Columbus proved the world to be round.
- Less than 140 years ago Jules Verne was writing about going around the world in 80 days
- Almost 50 years ago Yuri Gagarin orbited the world in space
- Today we can fly food to wherever it is needed

There are many reports of the significant increase in population growth over the past 50 years and forecast to continue rising, driving the need to ensure optimisation of production with minimum wastage to ensure there is sufficient food to feed all and not only the richer members of the world population.

Page 25 illustrates that 26%of the earth’s ice free land surface is grazing. These are areas unsuitable for arable agriculture, but still extremely valuable in the provision of food.  These areas can be made more productive when livestock grazing receive supplementation such as we see with sheep grazing the uplands of our Welsh mountains, for example.  This optimisation of resources has to be balanced carefully with commercial viability for those producing under these conditions.  Goats and Sheep handle these harsh conditions, but revenue for those shepherding them is low when compared to larger scale more commercial operations where containment within fenced boundaries and supplementary feeding can increase meat yields and labour input is reduced per kilo of food produced.  We still see many areas of the world with small herds tended by a single shepherd by day rather than contained in a foraged enclosure. These animals are making use of a mix of natural vegetation rather than single specie grass leys as we commonly see in intensive grassland agriculture today..  Stock herded in this way yield significantly less meat than those reared on higher quality grazing and with some supplementation.  Access to adequate water also has a significant impact on yield.  Lower yields per animal also mean greater man hours per kilo of meat recovered required to slaughter and process the animals.

Ostrich have adapted to live in some of the most arid conditions in the world, but farming them in this way is not commercially viable as a producer of meat.  Produced in this way it is unlikely that ostrich will contribute to “food security” or to “lifting those looking after them out of poverty”.  The ability of ostrich to survive under these extreme conditions has enabled them to survive as a species.

There are good discussions, with examples, on private sector projects linking backyard poultry systems as a solution to including small farmers but with the benefits of scale and management structure.  The problems and solutions cover many of the aspects that we discussed here and here reporting on a project in South Africa.

The uniqueness of ostrich is the knowledge learned over the past couple of decades.  We have learned that when farmed commercially incorporating modern techniques under ethical conditions they have the potential to produce red meat at comparative costs to those pig and poultry producers currently achieve.  This is of particular benefit to those members of populations unable to consume pork meat.  As multiple reproducers, it is possible to rapidly improve the genetic base in a similar manner that has been achieved with pigs and poultry.

Drivers of Food Consumption Trends

Newsletter No. 86

This newsletter discussed the FAO publication "The State of Food and Agriculture - 2009" publication that focused on livestock as it contained some interesting data.

The data illustrated the increasing consumption of meat in developing countries as a percentage of total food consumption.  Interesting to note in Figure 1 is the total consumption of cereals has moved very little, with consumption of roots and tubers having fallen marginally.  The significant increases have come from eggs and meat.

Figure 1 - Comparative Consumption of major food items in developing countries

Comparative Consumption of major food items in developing countries

The report states economic growth as the driver for this growth in consumption of animal products.  Whilst this is certainly true, another driver discussed in some depth are the improvements that have been seen in production methods of pigs and poultry in particular.  These improvements in efficiencies, which include development of genetics, have meant meat is produced at significantly lower cost than 50 years ago.   Chicken, for example, used to be a treat, today it is an everyday source of low cost meat protein.

Another important driver for increased meat consumption and helps in establishing measurable levels of meat consumption is the increasing urbanisation of populations.  When living in a rural situation, families are able to maintain poultry and livestock in their backyard – sufficient to feed their families.  Clearly it is not possible to accurately record production or consumption of livestock reared in this way.  However, it is possible to measure the increase in population movement to the urban environment to illustrate the increased demand for commercially produced animal protein.

Technological change is the single most important factor in expanding supply of cheap livestock products. (page 18)

These technological changes have come at every stage of the production chain from crop productions, food production, livestock management systems, genetic improvements, animal processing, packaging and distribution to sophisticated retailing outlets.

To meet the increasing demand for commercially produced animal protein, developing countries have been able to buy turnkey operations and/or develop joint venture partnerships to provide production locally.  We have witnessed developing countries attempting to approach ostrich production in a similar manner. The challenge with our industry at this time is that turnkey solution do not yet exist. Our industry still requires a company or companies to provide this leadership, developing commercial levels of production with the necessary proven primary production systems in place, including genetics, in the same way the pig, poultry, beef and dairy producers have achieved.  Our first hurdle is to achieve primary production efficiently, with reliability and cost effectively.  The markets for our products are there - once the industry is able to supply the right volumes with uninterrupted supply and at the right price.  Adequate financial backing of such systems currently remains the barrier to forward progress and the opening up of the significant market potential for Ostrich production.  Ostrich meat can supply quality meat protein to a large population base unable to consume pig meat.

Certification Schemes – EU Impact Assessment

Newletter No. 78 - Item 4

We regularly discuss the use of certification schemes that increasingly form part of the marketing strategies of our potential buyers.   The EU published a document entitled:  “Agricultural Product Quality Policy: Impact Assessment.  Annex D, Certification Schemes for Agricultural Products and Foodstuffs.”

Whilst the document is produced by the EU, the issues raised are increasingly reflected in conditions for servicing most export meat markets today.   This is an 87 page document that provides an insight into consumer concerns that influence current marketing strategies, assurance schemes and some of the legislation.  The following is Table 4, page 28 and 29 of the document.



A full study of the document provides a good insight into these issues that influence the marketing and acceptance of products.  The document illustrates why it is so important to know your markets prior to commencing production to ensure that all procedures required to satisfy your market requirements are in place.

Alternative feed ingredients

Newsletter 78 - Item 3

The subject title of this item was the title of a blog on the World Poultry web site.  You can access the blog here.  The blog concludes:

Two major determinants when it comes to the use of alternative feed ingredients in poultry rations are cost and availability. Another important issue in this regard is the lack of well-established information on the nutrient value of these ingredients, which may make diet formulation difficult.

There are a number of other important considerations in these discussions such as:

-       digestibility for the particular species

-       other ingredients in the rations and their ratios

-       consistency of the nutrient profile of that ingredient

Introducing anything new is a “variable”.  This discussion regards a species with extremely high volume production supported by a large data base of information to enable meaningful evaluation on such changes to the rations.  Ostrich do not yet have this luxury, making it even more challenging to introduce such variables simply because they are lower cost ingredients.