22 Nov 2022

The costs and impacts of feed wastage

Depending on which chickens are being produced, broilers or broiler breeders, up to 70 % of the cost can be allocated to feed. With feed costs continuing to rise, minimizing feed waste is more important than ever. However, feed wastage isn’t just a cost issue...

The costs and impacts of feed wastage

Depending on which chickens are being produced, broilers or broiler breeders, up to 70 % of the cost can be allocated to feed. With feed costs continuing to rise, minimizing feed waste is more important than ever. However, feed wastage isn’t just a cost issue.

>> Feed waste can be a biosecurity issue as feed spills can attract wild birds, rodents, beetles (Alphitobius) and other vermin that can carry pathogens onto the farm. Moreover, the environmental footprint is enlarged when resources, including water, energy, and land, used to produce feed ingredients and feed are wasted.

At the feed mill

Beginning at the feed mill, correct processing, preventing contamination, and accurate formulation can help reduce feed losses (Photo 1).

>> For example, incorrect processing can lead to pellets that are too hard, in which case birds may reduce or even refuse to consume the feed. Similarly, milling feeds to the correct particle size and uniformity is also important because birds may select larger particles and leave fines.

[caption id="attachment_144063" align="aligncenter" width="268"] Photo 1. Beginning at the feed mill, correct processing, preventing contamination, and accurate formulation can help reduce feed losses. Photo source: Cobb-Vantress[/caption]

Contaminated feed can occur during the milling process in places such as the mixer (carry-over) and post-processing (dust contamination).

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Consider potential spillage points as spillage is a direct loss. Accurate weighing is also important, because when feed ingredients are not weighed correctly, feed formulation won’t be correct.

Good quality raw ingredients should always be used to produce feed. Poor quality ingredients, such as corn contaminated with mycotoxins will not only decrease the palatability, but also cause health issues. Rancid fats decrease feed palatability, reduce feed intake and absorption, and induce poor uniformity. This is especially important in young chicks (1st week) as a good start in rearing is important for attaining good performance metrics.

Feed transport, delivery, and storage

To prevent contamination during transport, it’s important to ensure clean trucks are used. Carry-over from previous loads can contaminate feeds with additives such as coccidostats. Trucks should also be completely dry before filling to protect feeds from moisture which can lead to mold growth.

>>With mash feed, there is a possibility of particle segregation during transport, silo filing, and feed distribution in the house.

Particle segregation is an issue because birds may selectively eat large particles and leave fines leading to feed waste and possible nutritional intake deficiencies.

This segregation occurs when there is a big difference in particle size, shape, or density and the feed is shaken (Figure 1).

Additionally, coarser feeds are [register] more prone to particle segregation than fine feeds. However, making the feed too fine also has issues. Therefore, with mash feed, the average particle size should range from 1000 to 1100 microns. At this range, particle segregation will be minimized, and good gizzard development is still supported.

It is good practice to have at least 2 silos available per house so that 1 silo can be completely emptied before adding a fresh batch of feed. This will help prevent feed from adhering and accumulating on the silo walls, which over time can become moldy. Likewise, it is important that feed is cooled properly before filling the silos. If warm feed is placed in the silos, condensation can occur leading to mold issues.

[caption id="attachment_144058" align="aligncenter" width="586"] Figure 1. Particle segregation in feed can occur when particle sizes vary considerably. Each time the feed is shaken, heavier particles will remain at the top and smaller, finer particles will fall to the bottom. When this occurs, birds may only consume the coarse particles on top and waste the fines.[/caption]

House environment and equipment management


Considering that 70 % of the cost of raising broilers is feed, using the correct feeding system and ensuring that the feeding system is well maintained can be important for profits. There are several feeding systems available for broilers that work very well.

Recently, some European companies have been evaluating relatively small, round feeders that measure 18 cm in diameter (Photo 2).

[caption id="attachment_144062" align="aligncenter" width="380"] Photo 2. Small, round feeders are a new concept in feeders for broilers that may help minimize feed waste.[/caption]

These feeders can be used for broilers up to 4 kg. Some field observations include:

With broilers, a correct feed withdrawal program is also important and can help minimize feed wastage.

Optimum recommended time for feed withdrawal is 8 to 12 hours (beginning when birds do not have access to feed in the poultry house until shackling at the processing plant).

>>Less than 8 hours may result in excess feed and fecal residues in the digestive tract. This is a waste as the undigested feed will not be converted to meat. The excess feed residue will also cause yield, processing, and contamination problems in the plant.

>>Feed withdrawal longer than 12 hours causes the intestines to lose their tensile strength, making them easy to tear and rupture during evisceration at the processing plant. This will cause carcass and equipment contamination in the plant.

Broiler Breeders

Feeder management is an important factor to control feed wastage. When using pan feeders, ensure that feeders are locked and do not swing.

Swinging feeders not only make it difficult for birds to access feed, but feed can spill out of the pans if they swing.

To prevent spills when using chain feeders consider:

[caption id="attachment_144061" align="aligncenter" width="380"] Photo 3. High corners on chain feeders are a good option to prevent feed spillage in chain feeder systems. Photo source: Winfridus Bakker, Cobb-Vantress[/caption]

Determining how much feed to order for the silos before a flock is transferred to the production farm or at the end of the production cycle is also critical to minimize feed wastage.  In most companies, the excess feed is taken out of the silos and moved to another flock, which incurs costs. However, on many occasions, the feed is wasted. Timing, logistics, and calculating the correct amount of feed is important, so that the least amount of feed is present when the birds leave the farm. G

Digestion and feed waste

Birds consume, digest, and absorb the nutrients from the feed. Nutrients then are used for maintenance, growth and/or egg production.

The efficiency of digestion and absorption is dependent on a healthy gut and good water quality and intake (Photo 4). For these reasons, poor gut health will reduce the bird’s ability to extract the nutrients, and, in turn, they will require additional feed to meet their genetic potential.

[caption id="attachment_144060" align="aligncenter" width="380"] Photo 4. The efficiency of digestion is dependent on a healthy gut health and good food and water intake.[/caption]


Specific to broilers, a high feed intake and fast passage rate means good gut health is necessary for optimal feed digestion and nutrient absorption.

Disruptions in gut health can cause feed to pass undigested and deposited in excreta, which negatively impacts costs and generally impacts the environment on both the feed and poultry sides of production.

>>To support good gut health, biosecurity programs are important to minimize pathogenic challenges.

>>Other points to consider include making sure drinker lines are clean and provide fresh, cool water.

>>Keep the litter dry with good ventilation and correct any dripping nipples or water line connections.

When temperatures are below the thermal comfort zone, birds must allocate energy to produce metabolic heat. If temperatures are too low, the birds will consume more feed to generate body heat to keep comfortable.

Keep in mind that even with a pure heating fuel such as propane, it is still less expensive to heat with propane than with feed consumption.

Broiler Breeders

For broiler breeders, it is important to follow the feeding programs recommended by your genetics supplier as overfeeding has consequences beyond feed waste.

>>Cobb’s recommendations for each of our products are available at  https://www.cobb-vantress.com/resource/product-supplements.

In addition to feed waste, over feeding birds can cause the following issues:

Cost and Environmental impact

Feed waste can come in many forms. There are direct wastage issues such as feed spills that can create losses beyond dollars including biosecurity risks.

Use only good quality ingredients and preserve that quality by keeping feed stored under the correct conditions.

Feed consumption, digestion and absorption must also be considered as feed that passes through the bird undigested has costs going all the way back to resources used to grow those feed ingredients.

About the author

Winfridus Bakker has 40 years of experience in poultry production operations. He joined the Cobb World Technical Services team in 2000. Winfridus is a Great Grandparent, Grandparent and Parent stock breeder specialist. He serves Latin America, New Zealand, Australia, and Central and Eastern Europe.

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