Whats the alternative?
Use of fishmeal in livestock feeds is under pressure. But can the alternatives provide whats needed?
Sue Rider reports
SEVERAL protected vegetable proteins go along way towards replacing fishmeal in animal diets.
But most are based on one protein source and do not supply as high a content of amino acids as fishmeal – now the main source of high quality digestible undegradable protein for ruminants in the UK.
This can prove difficult when formulating high specification diets, admits Duncan Rose at Bibby.
It is the latest feed company to withdraw the protein from all compounds, except those for pregnant ewes and high yielding dairy cows.
Mr Rose explains the withdrawal of fishmeal is not based on any technical reason but in response to consumer pressure for absence of animal protein in diets.
The Scotch Quality Beef and Lamb Association – which has banned fishmeal from all diets, except those for pregnant and milking ewes – also says it is reacting to consumer pressures.
"Advice from the Scottish Agricultural College suggests there are suitable alternatives for all beef rations but that on economic and welfare grounds fishmeal should still continue to be used in breeding ewe diets," says chief executive Brian Simpson.
Luppo Diepenbroek of Mole Valley Farmers is concerned milk yield and fertility performance would suffer without use of fishmeal. Its a valuable protein source for young lambs and calves when milk supply is insufficient or early weaning practised, he says.
To that extent fishmeal is still included in most of MVFs dairy and ewe rations and calf and lamb starter pellets. Its not used, however, in its lamb and beef grower and finisher diets. These rely on a higher cereal content and extra vegetable proteins such as soya and rapeseed.
BOCM Pauls ruminant adviser Bruce Woodacre is, however, confident that should fishmeal be banned, ruminants could still be fed adequately. But he is concerned ration costs will increase.
The high level of essential amino acids in fishmeal avoids having to supplement with expensive protected amino acids, he says.
Producers fall into the trap of thinking about the raw materials rather than the nutrients, he says. "Its not the fishmeal thats important for ewes – its the fact that it contains a well-balanced supply of essential amino acids and is a high quality by-pass protein."
Godfrey White, nutritionist for Dukes and Botley Mills, is also confident that, to the best of his knowledge rations can be formulated without using fishmeal to achieve similar performance targets.
He relies on a range of vegetable proteins such as soya, sunflower and rape and synthetic amino acids. "Where such feeds have been used, farmers have reported no difference in performance," he says.
In theory it should be posssible to reformulate rations adequately by providing similar levels of DUP from vegetable proteins such as soyabean meal and some protected amino acids, says ADASs Bruce Cottrill.
"But we also believe that fishmeal increases microbial activity in the rumen and without knowing how it is influencing digestion in the rumen, it is difficult to know how to replace it exactly."
Fishmeal is a valuable protein source for weaned pigs from four-to-12 weeks old, says ADAS pig nutritionist Pauline Lee.
• Most important for very high yielding dairy cows; pregnant ewes and very young animals.
• In most cases can replace by using range vegetable protein sources and synthetic amino acids.
• More research is needed to determine what gives fishmeal its edge.