Feed conversion in broilers: What does it consist of and how to make it efficient?
Feed conversion in chicken broiler is one of the pillars of the poultry industry and requires strategies to make it efficient.
The pillars of poultry industry growth
The poultry industry is one of the most important productive sectors in the world and one of the protagonists in the livestock sector. For several decades, its production systems have become highly efficient thanks to improvements from different approaches.
On the one hand, improvements in genetics have had a notable impact on broiler production efficiency. These improvements consisted of selecting animals to enhance genes related to feeding conversion, musculoskeletal system resistance, weight gain, and carcass yield.
Poultry management has undergone significant improvements in recent years. This segment of production is correlated with technical advances and improvements in house ventilation systems, feed and water supply, litter and flock management, disease prevention, and the efficiency of vaccination and disease prevention protocols. In this way, management has a considerable influence on reducing production costs and making poultry production more efficient.
Finally, the poultry industry is a sector characterized by notable improvements and optimal advances related to intestinal welfare, nutrition, and feed conversion. These elements are the cornerstones of broiler production as they determine how quickly poultry gain weight, reduce feed and disease costs, and increase meat quality.
These improvements in the poultry industry have been identified in highly efficient broiler genetic lines. Therefore, it is very important to know the impact of feed conversion in these birds and what strategies are implemented to improve it.
Importance of feed conversion in broilers
Feed in broilers represents about 70% of on-farm production costs. Currently, the price of raw materials such as corn, wheat, or soybeans is a determinant of the price of feed supplied to the poultry. The current dynamics of the world market for raw materials, transportation, and stock exchange have favored high feed costs. Therefore, it is of foremost importance for the poultry industry to improve the efficiency of broiler feed consumption, as well as to optimize feed conversion.
Feed conversion is defined as the amount of feed converted (in grams) to live weight (in grams). In this way, it is understood as an index that determines the amount of feed supplied that is being transformed into live weight per bird. Over the years this value has been decreased to reduce the amount of feed a bird needs to develop and grow to an optimal point for profit.
In the 1950s the broiler at 42 days weighed approximately 0.5 kg. Later, in the 1970s the broiler of the same age reached a weight of approximately 1.5 kg. By the mid-2000s, this broiler could weigh about 3 kg. This remarkable increase in weight gain in a few days was achieved thanks to the improvements in feed conversion and genetics.
Factors influencing feed consumption
Feed conversion is closely related with some factors within management and diet. On the one hand, the characteristics of the supplied feed are a factor that influences feed consumption. The quality of the feed is related with the ingredients used in its manufacture, as well as its shape, size, and nutrients that make it palatable. Thus, the feed used to feed the poultry must have the highest indexes of nutritional quality, an adequate size for each age, and optimal conditions to increase feed consumption and favor feed conversion.
On the other hand, feed management is also of great importance to improve feed conversion and feed consumption. The quality, location, and type of feeders implemented on the farm have a significant effect on the feed consumption by the poultry. Likewise, this feed must be protected from environmental contaminants such as mold, water, fungi, insects, rodents, and contamination. In this feed management,the height of the feeders, the type of feeder, and the hygiene of these utensils are key factors; these elements should be modified according to the age of the broiler chickens as they grow.
Additionally, it is recognized that environmental factors such as temperature and humidity are key in poultry feed consumption. In freezing conditions, the feed consumed by the poultry is metabolized to produce heat, which decreases production efficiency. In addition, excessive heat has been shown to reduce feed intake in poultry. These conditions can affect feed conversion, so the necessary controls must be put in place to obtain the optimum farm temperature.
Related to the above point, ventilation plays a key role in feed intake and feeds conversion. Air pollutants such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and ammonia, among others, affect the respiratory, digestive, and metabolic levels of the poultry. Therefore, feed conversion can be affected under poor ventilation conditions.
Finally, the health status of the poultry also plays a key role in feed conversion. Intestinal welfare in poultry ensures that nutrients can be absorbed and utilized for growth and weight gain. In addition, prevention of diseases that affect the zone is necessary as they all affect feed conversion. Disease processes demand energy, cause nutrient losses (electrolytes, minerals, proteins), and increase treatment costs and mortality.
Feed conversion improvement strategies
Feed conversion can be improved (the index is reduced and tends to be 1) through various improvement strategies. These strategies are related with the feed supplied, farm management, environmental conditions, use of additives to improve feed consumption, and the health status of the poultry farm. Thanks to these strategies, production costs are reduced as less is spent on feed and weight gain is maintained or increased.
- Use feed of high nutritional value and digestibility according to each stage of production. In addition, it must be palatable and with adequate particle size for good digestion.
- Implement a strict feeding program based on the nutritional and management needs of the poultry.
- Optimize ventilation systems on the farm, ensuring ideal conditions of temperature, humidity, and air circulation.
- Correct feed management strategies related to the use of feeders (height and type), feeding schedules, waste reduction, and feed quality. In addition, water consumption is key to improving feed intake.
- Contemplate complete health programs that include vaccination, deworming and vector control strategies as diseases can significantly affect feed conversion.
Relation between intestinal welfare and feed conversion rate
The diet fed to broilers seeks to supply all the nutritional requirements of each stage of their growth. The maximum amount of nutrients and essential components are included in the feed to obtain a complete and balanced diet.
However, this diet alone does not translate into a good feed conversion rate. Therefore, the role of intestinal welfare in broilers is important, as well as the nutrients supplied and the intestinal microbiota. Therefore, additives should be implemented in the diet to improve these conditions.
Intestinal welfare is a state where the broiler can take advantage of and absorb the greatest amount of nutrients supplied in the feed and reduce the amount excreted. This includes an optimal balance of microorganisms remaining in the digestive tract of the poultry and the use of dietary additives to improve digestive physiology.
The use of Alquernat Nebsui, developed by Biovet S.A., which contains intestinal conditioner pronutrients, allows improving the digestive physiology of broilers. This product activates enterocytes to improve their function and intestinal welfare. Pronutrients induce the action of genes related to cell regeneration, better nutrient absorption, and improved enterocyte physiology. This effect strengthens the tight junctions of the digestive system, resulting in better feed conversion, increased nutrient absorption, as well as reduced antibiotic use. Furthermore, Alquernat Nebsui is a product of natural origin that does not generate the appearance of antimicrobial resistance and does not require withdrawal period.
Additionally, Biovet S.A. has recently designed Alquerfeed Diatom. This product contains active diatomaceous earth, which are fossilized remains of aquatic unicellular organisms formed by silica that capture water. Thanks to its mechanism, intestinal transit is reduced, and the feed remains longer to increase nutrient absorption. Field trials in Peru have demonstrated the efficiency of Alquerfeed Diatom in slowing down the passage of feed through the digestive tract by up to 16 minutes. This improved the digestibility of protein, crude fiber, minerals, and energy. In addition, this had a noticeable effect on feed conversion which reduced production costs and produced more meat.
The poultry industry has made remarkable advances to make broiler production more efficient. This objective has sought to increase the supply of meat to face the growing demand for animal protein, while at the same time trying to reduce production costs. To this end, notable advances have been made in poultry management, genetics, feed, and feed conversion.
Thus, feed conversion is one of the critical points in poultry farming. This index determines the amount of feed consumed by the poultry to increase their live weight. Therefore, it has been sought that they consume less feed and gain more weight. This improvement reduces production costs, reduces environmental impact, and favors the development of the poultry farm.
Feed consumption is closely correlated with feed conversion. This concentrate feed must have high nutritional value and digestibility, excellent physical characteristics to ensure its consumption, and good palatability.
Finally, there are management and nutrition strategies to optimize feed intake and thus improve feed conversion. These improvements are related with intestinal welfare, the use of additives that optimize digestive physiology, feed quality, house environment, flock health, and disease prevention.