Archive for Ostrich Nutrition

Benefits of Recording Feed Conversion

The PigSite ran an article discussing the importance of keeping good records focusing on measuring feed conversion.  The article illustrates how just a small improvement can make a significant difference in the overall profitability.

Quote:  Producers record numbers born and have a reasonable idea of growth rate while backfat is measured for them when finished pigs are slaughtered. Yet none of these is as important as feed conversion rate (FCR).

Pointing out the relative importance of these factors, Mr Sutcliffe demonstrated that an improvement of one standard deviation in feed conversion (equivalent to about 0.4 FCR points) could be worth as much as £18.52 per pig, assuming daily feed intake remained the same.

In comparison, one standard deviation in grading was worth £1.51; in daily gain, £9.46, and numbers born alive, £5.91 per pig. While one standard deviation is a large change in a trait, it does allow the relative economic impact of each trait to be assessed. End Quote

The author also mentioned the challenge of recording feed intake when feeding is on a conveyor system as is the case in many pig houses today.  It is usually possible to achieve FCR figures on a batch basis if not individual basis and is the best that can be expected in high production systems.

So what factors control feed conversion? This is a combination of productive rations supported by excellent feed and farm management systems, good stockmanship and the genetics of the livestock.  The fact that no genetic work has yet started with ostrich illustrates how this is an area that offers such exciting potential in the future of our industry.

Defining Nutrient Density

An article entitled The 2010 USDA/HHS Guidelines — A Rather Bizarre Definition of “Nutrient Dense”  discusses human nutrition but the principles the author discusses relate to all species.    Production Ostrich require nutrient dense rations, so it is important to understand the meaning of nutrient density.

So what do we mean by Nutrient Dense?  Usually the amount of nutrients provided in a given weight.

Using domesticated ostrich as an example, rations are made up of a combination of ingredients to ensure the birds receive adequate daily nutrient intake and ensuring these nutrients are in their correct balance and ratios to each other and within the weight that the bird can consume in a single day.

The table below is a simple example illustrating how Lucerne varies in quality.  A kilo of lucerne can yield very differing nutrient levels depending on the stage of growth (maturity) it was cut and how it was dried.  The more mature it is when cut the greater the fibre and the less digestible that fibre becomes.  The table illustrates how as the protein reduces per kilo as the fibre increases.  Lucerne provides many essential vitamins and minerals....these all drop as the fibre increases.

Comparative Nutrient Density of Lucerne

Lucerne Quality Protein Fibre Calcium Phosphorous
22% Premium 22% 23% 1.80% 0.32%
20% Good 20% 26% 1.60% 0.29%
18% Average 18% 29% 1.40% 0.24%
15% Mature 15% 34% 1.30% 0.21%
13% Very Mature 13% 38% 1.18% 0.19%

Therefore, many of the nutrients lost in that kilo of lucerne have to be provided by a different ingredient that is denser and will be more expensive.   When the quality is too low, it may not be possible to achieve adequate nutrients within the ration within limits of the daily consumption of the birds fed.

The industrialisation of human food has resulted in the processing of many ingredients.  This has resulted in many by products as the processing removes unwanted elements of the ingredients.  Examples are wheat bran, sugar beet pulp, citrus pulp, grape residue or hominay chop.  Some by products can have a place in small amounts in a ration, but others have no place in a ration as they take up space in the ration whilst providing very few nutrients.  Whilst a certain amount of fibre is essential in a ration, the source of that fibre must provide other essential nutrients that are usable by the birds.

Many of these by products can be very cheap when measured by price per tonne, but when measured by nutrient content they can be extremely costly as they provide so few nutrients for that space they take up in the ration.   When measured by the cost in lost production, and even poor health, they can be prohibitively expensive.

Ostrich require rations that are more nutrient dense than other production species because their daily consumption of feed is much lower when expressed as a percentage of their body weight - see illustration below. This makes it even more critical to use only ingredients that provide the best balance of nutrients and why there is no room in their rations for ingredients that are not to the best quality they can be if commercial levels of production are to be achieved.

Comparative Feed Intake [Courtesy: Blue Mountain Feeds]
comparative feed intake

Understanding Dry Matter in Animal Feed

Newsletter 104, published in November 2011 discussed a very important question asked  by a writer wanting to understand better how to understand dry matter in reference to ostrich rations.

The question asked:

“Blue mountain recommendation tells 2.1kg/day/bird for maintenance and breeder.  Is this the amount on air dry basis or dry matter basis?   I am confusing dry matter basis or air dry basis and I should be grateful to have your comment on this.”

This discussion proved it was confusion in language translation as the writer’s first language is not English even though he speaks and writes excellent English.  It does however illustrate the importance of understanding the correctly the moisture content of feed and how it relates to “TOTAL NUTRIENT INTAKE”.

In this discussion the writer was confusing “method of drying” as opposed to the resulting “dry matter” when calculating “total nutrient content” consumed.  Just to clarify further, the following explanations describe the differences in these terminologies.

Air Drying:
This is when ingredients are dried by air....it maybe forage lying in the field to be dried as hay by the sun.  It may be grains dried in the barn, free from artificial heat, but turned regularly until the correct dry matter is achieved to enable safe storage.  This is usually less than 14% moisture, with 10% to 12% moisture the optimum target.

Heat Drying:
This is the other method of drying forage crops or grains.  The crops are dried through an artificial heating system suitable for the crop being dried.

Both the above methods are appropriate with the method used dependent on the local conditions.  However, when formulating the rations to balance those ingredients it is important for the nutritionist to know the method used for drying and the resultant moisture content as drying methods can influence the micro-nutrients in the crop such as vitamins and enzymes.  Excessive exposure to the sun, for example can leach out nutrients.  Excessive artificial heat can destroy some vitamins and enzymes.    When hay is sampled for nutrient content, the vitamins and enzymes are rarely sampled as it becomes too expensive....the test usually covers only basics such as protein, fibre and maybe important minerals such as calcium and phosphorous.

Dry Matter Basis vs As Fed Basis
It is extremely important when calculating the “total nutrient intake” of any animal to know the moisture content of the feed fed to the birds...whether it is fed as dry food, grazed food, fed as silage or a combination of all.

Dry Matter and As Feed Moisture Content of Various Feed Ingredients
comparative dry matter

Dry Matter Basis is calculating “nutrient intake” on the total dry matter of the feed fed.

As Fed Basis calculates the total weight of the feed as fed, so includes any moisture.   When you weigh the feed to ensure your livestock receive the correct weights, this will include any moisture...that is “as fed basis”.    This paper explains this in greater depth.

The importance of understanding the “total nutrient intake fed” cannot be over emphasised.

Definition of Pasture?

Here we discussed Variables when scientifically evaluating diets of ostrich.   Reference was made to Veldt Pasture. Note there was no definitive definition provided for Veld pasture.

Figures 1 and 2 are illustrations of two different areas of veld (also known as Veldt) pasture.   I can confirm that the birds in figure 2 were fed controlled rations twice daily and were rarely seen consuming any of the vegetation surrounding them.

oudtshoorn veldt

Figure 1 - Outdshoorn Veldt - South Africa

Wikipedia description of Veld:
The term Veld (often spelled Veldt) refers primarily (but not exclusively) to the wide open rural spaces of South Africa or southern Africa and in particular to certain flatter areas or districts covered in grass or low scrub. The word veld comes from the Afrikaans (ultimately from Dutch), literally meaning 'field'. [See below for dictionary definition of field as it relates to agriculture]

sand veldt

Figure 2 - Breeders in Western Cape Sand Veldt

All readers will surely agree that there are significant variations in the nutritional content of grass and scrub....there are also many variations in nutritional content of any type of vegetation between seasons.

Most interesting is the fact that the literal translation of "Veld" is "Field" thus introducing another variable – that of language translations and interpretation.

Google definitions for Pasture – many variables come up:

  • Land covered with grass and other low plants suitable for grazing animals, esp. cattle or sheep
  • The grass and herbage growing on such land

A key comment in the second definition is grass and herbage.  Grasses come in many different varieties that are continually developed, can be uncultivated or cultivated and managed to a high level.  Herbage can vary from scrub grazing, these different bushy type plants found on the South African Veldt as illustrated or legume crops such as lucerne (alfalfa) as examples.  All totally different in the range of nutrients they offer.  All varying in nutrient quality depending on the season and the climatic conditions.

As one can see from the variables in these definitions it is essential to define parameters very  clearly.   This loose understanding of "pasture" is probably behind the advice given in the early years of our industry that ostrich require grazing land.  Veldt herbage cannot be compared to grasslands.  Scrub land can support browsers. Ostrich are browsers rather than grazers.  Wild pasture land provides access to vegetation for browsing as well as grazing and cannot be compared to the controlled and well maintained (often single specie) grass paddocks we associate with many modern farms today.

Dictionary definition of "Field" as it relates to agriculture:
an area of open land, especially one planted with crops or pasture, typically bounded by hedges or fences.  
synonyms:    meadow, pasture, paddock, green, pen, grassland, pastureland, sward;
From that point, there are further definitions and this is simply in the English Language.

Therefore one can see just why it is essential if defining the specificatons for a trial, study or simply guidelines, it is essential to be very clear on the detail.  Also for those following guidelines they are absolutely clear just what is defined as our interpretation of pasture will vary from region to region.

What is “scientifically proven”?

This link is to a book that discussed "what is scientifically proven" .... although this particular book related to human nutrition and health,  the basic principles of “scientifically proven” remain the same no matter which specie or subject under discussion.

Quoting the above reference: A “scientific” experiment is one where you take a set of circumstances, purposefully change only ONE variable, run the experiment and observe what happens. If anything interesting or unusual happens, then you look for a reason. Since all of the VARIABLES were “controlled,” the most likely suspect as to the CAUSE of the observed change is the one variable that you purposefully changed.   That’s science.

When first entering the ostrich industry back in 1994 wanting to learn more, the words "scientifically proven" was continually used - but when one examined what was being said, it quickly became obvious that there was nothing scientifically proven as it applied to ostrich production.  Another word heard repeatedly was “replicable”.   Of course important, but the variables must be understood in order to ensure an experiment is replicable under the same given conditions.

The success of the other livestock industries over the past decades is a result of the very high volumes of production that have enabled management to control the variables. Until it is possible to control variables, the only meaningful studies that can be carried out are those that set benchmark figures to enable further studies to be evaluated as we develop volume and in a position to eliminate the variables.

What exactly are these “variables”?

What is a “Variable” when conducting any experiment or trial?
A variable in this context is any change however small that variable may appear to be.  This will include such things as:

  • The genetic heritage of the livestock – includes not only the breed, type, origin, but also the management and nutritional history of the genetic lines/parentage.
  • Environment – includes management systems, climate, housing, pens, stress exposure
  • When discussing nutrition – includes not only the nutrient levels of each ration, but also the sources of those nutrients,  the precision of manufacture, feeding times and feeding rates/consumption.

In 2002 there was a proposal for a comparative study by the vet for the Klein Karroo Group.  The aim of the study was to compare baby chick liver colours.  Many chicks in South Africa were hatched with livers of a bright yellow colour which Blue Mountain was suggesting was a clear indicator of nutritional deficiencies in breeder nutrition and a contributory cause to the high levels of chick mortality experienced by South Africa ostrich farmers.

The full proposal can be viewed here.  For the purpose of a discussion on variables, I will copy here only the suggested parameters that clearly rendered any such study of absolutely no value to the industry and their producers.  It must be remembered that this proposal was made at a time when production levels were generally extremely low and there was a study on examining the causes of high levels of chick mortality underway.   The principal motivation for the study was to monitor the colour of chick livers at hatch and alterations as the chicks transferred from yolk sac dependency to full external feed intake.

Material
1.  10 chicks each from breeders fed on two different commercial breeder rations. Hatched artificially. Raised according to one protocol.
2.  10 chicks from breeders in on veld pasture. Hatched artificially or by parents and raised on veld.

oudtshoorn veldt

Figure 1 - Oudtshoorn Breeders in the South African Veld in the Oudtshoorn Region

As proposed this study was meaningless because there were far too many variables on a very limited number of chicks.   The proposer clearly did not have a basic understanding of the variables that would have an influence on the results.   The only variable referenced as a control was that the chicks in Group 1 should be reared according to the same protocol.

All Chicks suggested in the study:
No reference was made to ensure the performance history and nutritional history of the parents was known.  As this was a study designed to compare the livers of the chicks, for it to have any true meaning it was essential to ensure the exact nutrient consumption of the breeders and then the chicks while growing was known.  Liver condition (along with all internal organ development) is directly affected by the nutrients fed to the breeders producing the eggs.

Group 1 Chicks:
Most commercial rations in South Africa contain variables from batch to batch and the labelling regulations did not require feed ingredients to be listed and contained minimal nutritional information.

Group 2 Chicks:
For those of you not familiar with South Africa, the Veld is pasture area around Oudtshoorn.  Those second group of chicks would be from breeders running in this area.  Most farmers running breeders in this way also supplemented with either home produced rations made up including a commercial vitamin/mineral/amino acid premix or a commercial breeder ration.

When our industry achieves the high volumes of the mainstream livestock industries, it will then be possible to correctly control variables – including genetics.   In ostrich this would be chicks from a batch of eggs from comparative breeder pairs.   The breeders’ full production, management, nutritional, environmental and genetic history would also be on record.

Body Condition Scoring

Body condition is a visual and subjective assessment which comes naturally to stockmen/women. Good body condition is achieved by a combination of the nutritional program, management and the environment. With ostrich, there remains a lack of experience on how to fully recognise a healthy body condition.

The subject of Body Condition Scoring (BSC) was referenced in Ostrich at a conference in Hengelo in 1996 or 1997.  Whilst body condition scoring is an excellent guide, the problem at the time was that experience in ostrich was still limited and therefore it was not possible to set any meaningful standards.

Breeder condition will change during the breeder season.  The aim of the off season is to rebuild their body reserves so they start the breeder season in top condition.   Figure 1 is an illustration of body condition scoring for Dairy Cattle.  These illustrations are taken from Pennsylvania State University web page, but there are many examples available.

Dairy cattle BSC

Figure 1: Dairy Cattle Body Condition Scoring

Figure 2 is a similar photo of comparative ostrich hens.  Comparing these two hens, it is clear which bird will have the resources to withstand a productive breeder season.  The hen on the left was fed a ration that was mainly grain based, with limited vitamins and minerals and some straw.  The hen on the right received rations that are of high nutrient value that included alfalfa, maize, soyameal with high levels of supplemented vitamins and minerals.

comparative ostrich hens

Figure 2: Comparative Ostrich Hens

The condition of ostrich of any age should be evaluated using the normal criteria of judging good health of which body condition is just one component. It is important to understand the difference in a bird in good condition with plenty of muscle as opposed to a bird that is carrying too much fat.  Signs to look for with ostrich are such as things as:

  • General Alertness:  At all ages the birds should look bright and alert.  Ostrich are extremely good at camouflaging poor health so as not to alert predators.
  • Bright Eyes
  • Good Health
  • Glossy Feathers
  • Good feather Cover:  Free from feather pecking but some mating wear is normal during the breeding season
  • Rounded well-muscled body
  • Well-muscled thighs
  • Strong legs
  • Freedom from any defects: e.g: bowed legs, twisted legs
  • Good appetite

    quality chicks

    Figure 3: Quality Chicks

Apart from visual inspection, the way to physically assess the body condition of ostrich:

Quote: When the backbone at the highest place on the bird’s back is protruding above the surrounding flesh, the bird is too thin. When the backbone at the highest place on the bird’s back is indented below the surrounding flesh, the bird is too fat and needs decreased feed—or a different feed formulation.  The optimum Body Condition is when the backbone at the highest point on their back is perfectly even with the surrounding flesh End Quote [1]

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[1] Daryl Holle Body Condition is Most Important

The Five Freedoms

The Veterinary Health Plan discussed earlier introduced the Five Freedoms as an important component of the plan.  As a reminder the Five Freedoms are the same across all species and are:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst - By ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from discomfort - By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease - By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour - By providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress - By ensuring conditions and care which avoid mental suffering

The first freedom references hunger and thirst.  Achieving the correct diet for ostrich continues to cause many problems and of course, has a significant influence on ensuring the third freedom is met – Freedom from Pain, Injury and Disease.   We still witness mal-nutrition in ostrich, not from wilful neglect, but rather from lack of knowledge.   Figure 1 are examples of the results of inadequate breeder nutrition.   The chicks in the first photo were all hatched on the same day, some developed well others failed to live and there were some who were slow to grow.  The chick in the middle is one that failed to live.  These chicks had bright yellow livers and yolk sacs containing no bile to aid the absorption of the nutrients in the yolk sac.  The third chick was shown to me by a concerned owner as they had purchased breeders that were fed grass only during the off season.  All chicks from those hens failed to thrive.

Various chick problems

Figure 1:  Various Chick Problems

The chicks in the photos below are an all too familiar problem witnessed in ostrich production.  The causes are nutrient deficiencies which are usually caused by deficiencies in the rations fed to the growing chicks.  These can be made worse if they were weaker chicks at hatch due to breeder rations that are lacking in adequate nutrients.

growing chicks with leg problems

Figure 2: Growing Chicks with Leg Problems

All these problems are preventable when the birds have sufficient feed containing the right balance of nutrients and, as can be seen, that starts with the breeders to ensure strong chicks at hatch.  Healthy chicks at hatch grow quickly and reach slaughter weight at much younger ages than was traditionally achieved. 

Incubation and Chick Quality

Newsletter No. 93

Pars Reform, the incubator company, has an interesting document entitled “Genetic Progress Inspires Changes in Incubation Technology”.    Reading it, it is important to remember that the progress in poultry production is a direct result of the very large volumes of sales that supported and financed the technical developments.  With all we have learnt of ostrich working on a very low scale, they are capable of achieving similar levels of production when farmed using economies of scale adopting management systems appropriate for commercial levels of Ostrich production.

Variation in Broiler and Layer Embryo - Chicken

The developing embryo illustrating variation in Broiler and Layer Embryo

Quote: The developing embryo: variation between the heart structures of a layer embryo (A) and a broiler embryo (B) at 40 hours of incubation.  In studies conducted by Pas Reform, genetic selection for growth was shown not only to influence growth after hatching, but also to influence the growth patterns of embryonic heart structures. Here we see that in the broiler embryo (B) the ventricle (marked*) is dilated, compared to the ventricle in the layer embryo (A).End Quote

This comparative illustration clearly indicate variations that would be most interesting to study in greater detail.  The illustrations, combined with the supporting narrative indicate the importance of all elements of the production chain and the variables they place on production.

Assuming that these two photos are taken at exactly the same stage of embryonic development and the same magnification then the overall growth of embryo B is far greater than embryo A.   This emphasises again the importance of genetics and egg quality.

It will take several decades, once commercial levels of ostrich production are achieved, to reach the same level of sophistication that commercial poultry production enjoy....but this clearly illustrates the opportunities.

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.

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[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

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.