What is in store for the future of feeds?

Protein and energy costs are on a seemingly never ending upward climb, with soya bean meal prices seeing a 60% increase since the start of the year and feed wheat costs rising 33% in the same period.

 Survey results
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Farmers Weekly, in association with Trident Feeds, surveyed more than 550 livestock producers to get an idea of the future of feeding in the UK. Two-thirds were concerned about what the future may hold. View the survey results here to find out what else they thought.


More than three-quarters of livestock farmers have seen ration costs escalate over the past five years, with dairy and pig producers feeling the pinch even more when coupled with falling product returns. However, according to farmers and advisers, there is potential for considerable savings by looking to alternatives – but it’s crucial to weigh up the pros and cons before taking this route.

Consultant Chris Savery of the Dairy Group, says that although this year’s challenging season may make the promise of a bargain even more attractive than usual, it is vital producers establish what they are actually gaining.

“A lot of producers are having grazing difficulties, a lot of ground is spoilt and forage quality is low – this will all affect supplementation,” he says. “So now is the time to make some assessment of what is appropriate to supplement with.”

He says, although there may be pressure to buy lower cost compounds or blends, it could mean products are lower in energy and protein. “Be careful and make forages do more, and feed less of quality compounds or blends,” he says.

Independent beef and sheep consultant David Hendy stresses that regular analysis of silage is also critical to ensure rations are balanced.

“This year, more than ever, working out feed costs and understanding dry matter worth and unit costs for energy and protein is crucial,” he says.

Here, three experts give their views on potential alternative future feed options:


Moist feeds and liquids

When forage quality is low, moist co-products such as brewers’ grains, pressed pulp and Trafford Gold, can help, but it’s important to cost out their value on a dry-matter basis, says Mr Savery.

“Storage also needs considering – there is no point buying less expensive moist products when they are not stored well Ð you run the danger of spoilage and wastage.”

But moist feeds could have a specific role to play this season where forage is limited, as they are a good way of extending forage.

Mr Hendy believes there are opportunities to save feed costs in both beef and sheep, but there are greater options within beef.

“You only get one chance to get it right with sheep, and I would be loath not to use quality protein like soya bean and rape early in the lambing season.

“However, for growing and finishing cattle, at the moment liquids are the most cost-effective,” he says. “Up to two or three years ago, liquids were seen more as an energy source than a protein, but now there are distiller liquids, or liquids with bonded urea, that can have protein levels of 40-65% in the dry matter.”

Currently, urea and distiller syrups look like a cost-effective protein source versus soya, however Mr Hendy stresses it is critical to establish the level of protein/kg of DM.


Liquids as an alternative protein source – Graham Heard, Lutsford Farm, Bideford, Devon

By incorporating molasses containing urea-based protein into grower/finisher rations, beef farmer, Graham Heard hopes to save 22.5% per unit cost of protein.

“The price of soya and rape meal has gone up so much that our blend costs have shown a marked increase,” he says.

“Molasses is a good way of feeding a more cost-effective protein, and because this season’s silage is not good quality, I’m hoping it will also help intakes.”

Mr Heard runs 55 mainly continental suckler cows and usually buys-in 400-450 stores every year.

This winter, the molasses, which incorporates urea-based protein, will be included in grower and finisher rations and fed as a TMR with fodder beet, crimped wheat, grass silage and a protein blend. “The liquid will help us reduce the amount of blend in the ration,” he explains.

Mr Heard has worked closely with his nutritionist, David Hendy, to analyse whether liquid was the most cost-effective way ahead.

“I sent the prices and DM, ME and protein figures to Mr Hendy and he worked out the costs per year. I think it’s important to get secondary advice – if the DM is not high, you won’t get the benefits,” says Mr Heard.

The unit has invested in a 12t second-hand silo to store the molasses at a cost of £660, versus £2,000 for a new one.

“We’ll decide year on year if it is right to use liquid, depending on whether the soya price drops back or our silage is better,” he says.


By-products of bioethanol production at plants such as Vivergo also have the potential to reduce the cost of the ration, says Mr Savery.

The plant is set to produce 500,000t/year of high-protein, high-fibre feed in pelleted, moist and liquid form.

Mr Savery comments: “When distillers are produced at plants like Vivergo, they will be high quality and will compete with soya bean and rapeseed and other distiller products.”

Home-grown forages

Home-grown forages also have the potential to not only reduce the level of bought-in feeds, but also provide the flexibility to cope with increased costs of purchased


Forage specialist, Francis Dunne of Field Options, believes there is room for producers across all sectors to improve the efficiency of forage production.

“If you grow forages properly the cost in p/MJ can be driven down hard, providing room to move if the cost of buying-in is high,” he says.

Red clover

Mr Dunne says red clover has a role to play in all ruminant systems, but primarily cattle.

“Ideally red clover should be clamped or baled separately so it can be fed in appropriate amounts to complement the energy in the ration Ð if you can’t separate, you won’t get all the benefits,” he says.

Where red clover is incorporated at a rate of 2-2.5kg in a 12kg grass mix, the crop is likely to yield 14-15% protein at second and third cuts, with an ME of about 11. And red clover on its own will have a protein level of 20%.

Wholecrop barley and peas

Although Mr Dunne believes protein to be important, he says energy drives everything, and as such, producers should be aiming for a cost/MJ of less than £1.

“I’m a big fan of spring barley mixed with combining peas for beef and dairy diets. By adding peas you are enhancing the protein and energy of the silage, without compromising p/MJ costs.

“This is like a diet in itself at more than 11ME and 12-13% protein. It’s easy to grow and costs about 86p/MJ,” he says (see our wholecrop costs table).

Fodder beet

Mr Dunne also believes we could see an increase in the amount of fodder beet grown alongside maize crops, as beet is more able to adapt to varied climatic conditions and maintain quality.

“Fodder beet is the highest energy yielding crop we can grow at 14.2t DM yield/ha and 12ME.”

Mr Dunne advises producers who were expecting low energy silage crops to try and buy fodder beet crops forward. However, the crop tends only to be fed as about one quarter of a total ration and specific growing skills are needed to get the most from the crop.

Peas, barley and lucerne – Mark Yearsley, Reaseheath College, Nantwich, Cheshire

Growing peas, barley and lucerne as a wholecrop not only provides a good all-in-one energy and protein feed, but also helps establish lucerne in a rotation, says Reaseheath College farm manager Mark Yearsley.

Mr Yearsley aims to reduce the amount of bought-in feed for the college’s herd of 250 pedigree Holsteins by focusing on home-grown forages. “At the moment we are feeding 0.38kg/litre of concentrates, but I want to reduce this to 0.32 by growing more forage and without loosing milk yield,” he says.
“I’m very focused on multi-forage diets as I believe giving variety can increase dry matter intakes.”

The herd of 11,000-litre Holsteins are currently receiving a ration of peas, barley, lucerne, whole crop cereal, maize and grass silage.

Ideally lucerne, peas and barley are sown on 1 April with the wholecrop harvested at the end of July. This first year allows the lucerne to establish under the peas and barley, and the lucerne will then provide a further three to four years of production.

“The wholecrop has a protein level of 15-16%, starch of 12% and a dry matter of 26-27%,” says Mr Yearsley.


Rapeseed meal and synthetic amino acids offer the most exciting protein alternatives for pig producers, according to nutritionist Mick Hazzledine of Premier Nutrition.

“For every 1% rape meal used in UK pig rations, you save 50p/t in feed, with no difference in performance,” he says. “Three-parts rapeseed replaces two-parts soya.”

Mr Hazzledine says modern rapeseed meal is a far improved, palatable product, allowing incorporation of up to 15% in finisher rations, with a protein level of 35%. He believes there is room to increase inclusion rates even further. “Introducing rapeseed meal into the ration is one of the simplest things to do and can give a £1/pig saving,” he says (see our sample cost savings table here).


Synthetic amino acids fed with cereals will feed like soya, he explains. “When tryptophan and valine come down in price they will be more cost-effective to feed.”

Peas and beans can also be fed as an alternative protein source. But with the higher margin per hectare for rapeseed, arable producers are more likely to use it as a break crop.

Beans as an alternative protein – Martin Barker, Midland Pig Producers

Feeding beans has resulted in a £50/t saving in ration costs for Martin Barker of Midland Pig Producers.

Including beans across pig rations has been part of a strategy to reduce reliance on soya bean meal across a business which includes 3,000 sows and finishes 80,000 pigs a year. The overall aim is to completely eliminate soya bean use.

However, growing beans in a primarily wheat, wheat, barley, beans rotation, across the business’ 4,000 acres has also brought the added benefit of reduced bought-in fertiliser costs – something included in the overall savings calculations.

“We’ve completely taken soya bean meal out of the ration on two of our farms. We don’t grow beans on all farms, because on some units we need to grow rape in order to soak up nitrogen,” says Mr Barker.

He says the main driving force for growing beans was a need to protect the business from volatile times. “Safeguarding a sustainable supply of feed and guarding against reliability on imports is of paramount importance.”

Following involvement in the Green Pig Project, trial results showed including beans in the diet in the absence of soya bean meal resulted in similar weight gain and feed conversion ratio.

Beans are planted at the end of February/beginning of March and generally harvested at the end of September. Mr Barker says, so far, he has never had a bad crop, with yields at 2t/acre fresh weight and 20% protein. However, he stresses that planting in a dry seed-bed is crucial.

Depending on location, the business will also use other alternatives, such as confectionary blends, to reduce costs.

More on this topic

Livestock 2012 on 4 and 5 September at the NEC Birmingham offers a great opportunity to find out about alternative feed options. Visit our Livestock 2012 page for all you need to know about the event.