Strategies to reducing feed costs

Nari, Normal

The National, Tuesday July 21st, 2015

 FEED is the most important single cost component of livestock production, and especially for poultry and pig production. 

It accounts up to 80 per cent of the total cost of production. 

Depending on the quality of the feed, for instance, it takes 2 to 3 kg of nutritionally balanced feed to produce one kilogram body weight gain in broilers and pigs. 

Thus at the current broiler starter and finisher feed retail prices in Lae of about K2.25 per kg, an average smallholder farmer will have to spend up to K14 to produce a market size broiler that weighs 2kg at about six weeks of age. 

High feed cost is not unique to PNG; farmers in Solomon Islands and Vanuatu pay even higher for feed than their counterparts in PNG. 

Over the last decade alone, the retail price of various stockfeed in PNG has more than doubled (Figure 1). So what makes stockfeed disproportionately expensive and still rising? 

In PNG and other pacific countries, most of the ingredients used to manufacture formulated stock feed are imported. 

Grains such as maize, wheat and sorghum alone can constitute from 20 to 30 per cent of poultry feeds. Add to these, soybean meal and other protein concentrates, vitamin and mineral premixes and enzymes. 

The commercial feed industry is therefore heavily dependent on imported raw materials, and hence exposed to price fluctuations of these products on the world market. 

None of these products are produced in PNG in sufficient quantity and quality to meet the demand. 

Because of unconducive climatic variability, high pest and disease burden, high labour cost and associated socio-cultural factors, PNG has not been producing industrial grade cereal grains to meet needs of the feed industry. 

This is not likely to change in the foreseeable future.

It is common knowledge that transport costs, be it land, air or sea, of moving raw and finished feed products in PNG are relatively very high, perhaps due to infrastructure and related transaction costs. With very limited alternative feeding options, smallholder livestock farmers are decidedly price-takers of costs set on commercial stockfeed. 

It is therefore no wonder that smallholder livestock farmers throughout the country identify high feed costs as their major constraint limiting their participation in the fast expanding livestock product markets.

To address this fundamental and cross-cutting constraint, the National Agricultural Research Institute (NARI), in collaboration with the PNG University of Technology, the Lutheran Development Service, the Christian Leaders Training College, other NGOs and the Southern Australian Research and Development Institute, with funding support from the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research has been developing and testing low cost livestock feeding strategies. 

These strategies are presented here in a series of focus articles, including this one, focusing on key strategies. PNG has a diverse and rich resource base of tuber and root crops that can supply much if not all of the starch needed from the imported cereals. 

Their leaves and vines are excellent sources of protein and fibre needed in balanced diets. 

Research by NARI has shown that sweet potato in the high and mid altitude Highlands and cassava in the lowlands can effectively substitute cereals in formulated poultry, pig and fish feeds, and the animals have attained similar levels of growth performance. 

Banana and sago have been used as partial replacements in these diets. 

Apart from converting tubers in to flour for industrial scale processing, smallholders can boil and mash sweet potato and cassava tubers very much like they do the family food to make nutritionally balanced diets, without adversely affecting growth performance of animals. 

These diets can be prepared in two ways: 

  • Blending sweet potato or cassava in the right ratio with especially produced protein rich concentrates manufactured in commercial feed mills; or, 
  • Mixing the various ingredients in community or privately owned mini mills to produce the complete diets on site.

PNG produces a range of agro-industrial by-products that can serve as excellent sources protein, energy, minerals and vitamins needed in balanced livestock diets, but not all of these are being fully utilised. 

Some like copra meal and mill run are exported as primary products. 

Others are being used as feed supplements (fish meal, palm kernel meal, mill run, copra meal) and even as sole diets without due regard to their chemical properties that limit their feeding values. 

As part of its current research and development priorities, NARI in collaboration with industry stakeholders is looking into options for alternative essential value addition processes to these products. 

Proper feed formulations practices would enable effective utilisation of the feeding value of these products. 

Minor by-products include meat and bone and poultry offal meals and others such as molasses, spent brewers’ grains and pyrethrum marc. 

Efficient use of these by-products to livestock feed can  help reduce competition for other ingredients that can be used for humans, such as grains, legumes and root crops. 

More importantly it would reduce the high cost of feed and stimulate the growth and development of the local livestock industry, particularly the smallholder semi-commercial and commercial pig, poultry and aquaculture subsector. 

This is consistent with the current government policy direction towards promoting opportunities for small and medium enterprises.

In conclusion the high and rising pressure of feed cost of local livestock production can be reduced substantially by substituting imported feed ingredients with locally available alternatives such as sweet potato, cassava, copra meal, mill run, fish meal and palm kernel meal. 

Available improved feeding options for broiler and layer chicken using sweet potato can reduce feed costs by 30 per cent. 

Additional benefits that can be realised through value addition (such as sweet potato feed flour making, boiling and mashing, ensiling) on these resources include creating employment opportunities for available household labour, and enhancing farm integration towards greater farm production.