Worsening Grain Quality
Our grain supply as a whole in the U.S. has been gradually decreasing in value. This is not a new thing. From the time the first settlers started farming on North American soils. The grains or crops that farmers grow are actually Miners! The plants they grow take nutrients out of the soil and deposit them into the plant tissues. All part of nature, right?
Well not exactly. In nature, the animal would eat the plant and drop manure nearby depositing minerals back into the soil where it was consumed.
In todays farming practices, plant tissues and grains are transported thousands of miles. This practice is not just for animals, humans get food from similar or even more distance. These practices are small scale mining.
For millenniums mankind has been breeding plants and animals for faster growth and higher yields. This is not a secret or surprise. In our race as mankind we forgot about nutrient density or food values. Mankind in general has always had an insatiable desire for bigger, faster, and more. Well, it’s catching up to us gradually.
How or what does this mean to you as a chicken or other animal farmer? Your animals grow faster and bigger than ever imagined. Who would have thought, a Cornish Cross cockerel can reach 3.5# carcass weight in 35 days? Or that a farmer can get 300+ bushels of corn from one acre of land? Not natural things. Anyway, the animals have a higher demand for nutrients to match their growth rate. But the grains that are being grown, grow fast, although their nutritional content is going backwards. Yep, you heard me correctly. For instance, in the late 1800’s, early 1900’s wheat had a protein level that averaged around 16% with mineral content double what current wheat berries have. Todays wheat grown for livestock feed averages 9 – 10% protein. The reason? Wheat in the late 1800’s – early 1900’s would have yielded 40 – 50 bushels per acre. In the 2000’s anything less than 80 bushels per acre is not acceptable. While we have figured out how to make more quicker, mankind is leaving nutritional aspects behind.
Ok, enough history lesson. Let’s tie this all together. With the increase of yield, decrease of nutritional density, growing grains in regions that are not naturally suited for growing, weather changes, plant breeding we have a perfect condition for feeds that are substandard. When any plant grows in a stressful or unfriendly environment, they will be more susceptible to pest, fungus infections and general stress. It is the fungal and bacterial infections we want to focus on today. Each year a region or regions of the country or world will have crop growing problems. It is inevitable, part of nature!
The fungal and bacteria – a.k.a. Molds are not always visible or easy to deal with. Please understand, when grain comes from the field to your chicken or other animals it is not looked at. WHAT!?!?!
The man driving the combine or harvesting equipment doesn’t see the grain. He sees the row or the plants he is harvesting. Then it goes into a truck, then into grain drier, then into a storage bin, then into a grinder or processing equipment, into the mixer, into a truck or bag for you. Feed milling in most of the U.S. is a closed loop system. A human eye rarely sees the grains going in to a mixed feed. Wow!
To further the potential problem, the mold spores whether bacterial or fungal are not visible to the naked eye. Even if the farmer, trucker, feed miller or animal producer did see the grain they probably would not see the problem.
Let’s paint a picture for you. Try to envision sitting on a beach (nice thought for winter). Kids are playing in the sand. A 1-gallon bucket of sand on that beach would be equivalent to 2,000,000 grains of sand. Believable right? The mind-boggling part is 4 of those grains of sand are enough contamination to reduce your feed conversion by 10% and the animal’s immune system. At 20 grains of sand -10 ppm – parts per million you will start to see unexplained mortality, severe growth performance, poor feathering, rough hair coats, and other issues. I would challenge you to find the 10 bad grains of sand in that bucket.
The feed mill folks are not trying to give you bad feed. They can’t see it. They can’t test every bag or truckload they send you. Some mills randomly test. But there is not a mandated requirement to test for these issues. Besides, testing would be a lot like the proverbial “Needle in a Haystack”.
What are we to do? Observation! Observations should be part of your regular routine. It will actually save you time, money and from problems. What are you looking for? Feed refusal – animals are not eating as much as they should for their stage of growth or development. Un-thriftiness – just not acting normal, slow, unmotivated. Feather or hair coat quality – dull, ruffled, or rough. Eye clarity – eyes look dull, not focusing or alert to surroundings. Overall health – they are just not quite as healthy as you would expect. Higher mortality – more than usual unexplainable deaths.
There are additives that can be added to the feed to lessen the affects. However, feeding additives when not needed may tie up or bind beneficial nutrients making them not available for absorption. The best answer is to test periodically for mycotoxins and aflatoxins, combined with keen observations and follow through to determine what caused the illness. Think about doing a necropsy. Very often mycotoxins or aflatoxins will leave signs behind on internal organs, usually liver discoloration or digestive tract abnormalities.
Testing cost money. The feed mill or grain farmer would need to pass along those cost. Most of the producers I communicate with are looking for ways to save money. We are stuck with a potential problem that no one wants to pay for. But we all pay for it in some fashion. The animal farmer has poor performance which loses money. Then quits buying from that feed mill or grain supplier who loses money. I guess the question is who will be Proactive vs. Reactive?
Jeff Mattocks The Fertrell Company