One of the most complex portions of this entire topic, is the issue of optimizing amino acid ratios. Recall from our conversation on proteins, that each protein is composed of amino acids. And while poultry can convert some amino acids themselves, 10 so-called essential amino acids must be supplied within the diet. Each type of feed offers a different combination of amino acids, and unfortunately very few feeds offer those amino acids in just the right proportions. Thus each potential feed ingredient needs to be evaluated not only in terms of which nutrient it offers, but in what amounts. As feed rations are formulated, those ingredients are combined in proportions which try to create that ideal balance. Unfortunately, it’s even more complicated than that. Most feed ingredients also contain other substances which have undesirable effects at too high a concentration. Some are toxins, some interfere with digestion, some change the taste or texture of the meat or egg, and some impact growth rates. So even if those feed ingredients have important amino acids, they cannot always be used in sufficient quantities to provide those amino acids. If this sounds overly complicated, think of it in terms of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Any given feed needs to be offered in amounts which are “not too much, not too little, but just right”. If feed formulations seem unnecessarily complicated, this is the #1 reason why. No one feed can provide all these ingredients, in just the right amounts. So the formulations combine a little of this, a little of that. It’s a balancing act. And this is where home-blended feeds often miss the mark. Getting these blends just right, is a challenge. For those who have no time, interest or patience to wade through all the chemistry and biology on their own, the easiest way to ensure a complete feed ration is to simply use one of the recipes we’ll provide on our Recipes page. However, for those readers who really want to dive into the topic, we offer the following additional resources. These go into great detail about the various amino acid combinations and how best to formulate poultry feeds to provide them.
One final note. For those flock owners who are strongly motivated to find non-GMO feed sources, this issue of amino acid combinations is even more important. We’ll cover that topic separately. However, I’ll summarize here by saying that each feed recipe which eliminates non-GMO ingredients, must recreate amino acid blends with a shrinking list of non-GMO feed ingredients. Each time another crop is offered in GMO varieties, that lst of non-GMO ingredients shrinks. Thus each new generation of non-GMO feeds gets more difficult to formulate. We’ll go into this in much greater detail on the Non-GMO Feeds page.
One more variable needs to be mentioned. Feed formulations have evolved over the passage of time, not only in terms of our understanding about nutrition, but also in terms of flock owner priorities. Prior to WWI, many farms raised most of their own feed, or traded locally for that feed. Thus, the ideal feed formulation was based on what crops were grown or available locally. Then, with the advent of cheap transportation, cheap grains production and a thriving post-war economy, the priorities changed. It became cheaper to transport feed great distances, than to grow it locally. Growing consumer demand and changing commodity pricing encouraged growers to maximize their production rates, even if they were not feeding the most optimally balanced feed in the process. Then as production costs grew in relation to retail pricing, it became important for each pound of meat or egg, was produced as efficiently as possible, without paying any more for protein (and their amino acids) than necessary. More recently, in addition to that need for cost effectiveness, concerns about nitrogen pollution has added another challenge – feed the birds exactly the protein they need, in easy-to-digest forms, such that as little excess nitrogen is excreted as possible. And finally, the last five to ten years have seen a dramatic resurgence in consumer interest in local food production, even if that local production costs more than conventional products. That trend has gone so far that some consumers have become their own producers, purely because they want to exercise ultimate control over what they eat. Not only do these producers want to provide their own meat and eggs, they want to know, absolutely, what feeds went into the creation of that meat and milk. In a way, we’ve come full circle.
Each flock owner must therefore first make some choices about their priorities:
1) feeding rations which can be grown locally
2) feeding rations for maximum performance
3) feeding rations for optimized cost-effectiveness
4) feeding rations to minimize excreted nitrogen
5) absolute knowledge about what ingredients go into their meat and eggs
The above priorities will have implications for which feed ingredients and/or recipes are most appropriate. I will say right here that most home-blended formulations will never reach the highest possible levels of cost-effectiveness or minimal excreted nitrogen. This is simply because most small-scale flock owners simply don’t have access to the equipment, the calculations and the bulk pricing to achieve those goals. Happily, most owners who are interested in raising or blending their own feed, are doing so either because they want to grow or source their feeds locally, and/or because they want to know what ingredients are going into that feed (and thus into their meat and eggs). If either of those is the case, then any of the recipes offered on the Recipes page will help them meet those goals.