Auburn University and the poultry industry’s investment in the university's new 12,000-square-foot research feed mill wasn’t simply a response to the educational needs of students. It reflects the research needs of the entire industry and the tremendous pressure to feed animals better and more cost effectively.
“The feed mill is an evil necessity, it’s not a profit center, and the whole idea is to put birds on the shelf,” explains Gerry Leukam, senior vice president of development, T. E. Ibberson Company.
As grain prices rise, it is impossible for large meat producers to pass the feed costs on to the consumer so much of it comes from a producer’s already thin margin of profit.
“If [poultry outfits] could augment grain costs with better feed conversion, producing cheaper feed, buying cheaper ingredients or get more production per horsepower — it’s going to offset some of that cost,” Leukam says. Hatching egg to harvest and processing — 70% of the cost is feed milling. If companies can save 2% to 3% there, it transfers a huge cost saving over to the consumer.
“In the poultry industry, it’s all volume, that little bit of feed conversion is hugely important,” he says. “At the end of the day you’re producing a food product that you want to make money on, but along the way, the inputs and decision making that go into that are hugely important.”
In the quest to keep costs low and grow profits, there are other trends shaping poultry research:
• Genetics: Biotech has evolved to the point where companies can harness the benefits of the technology in whichever way benefits the organization’s goals. For example: As poultry farm environments become cleaner, producers can take away some of the hardiness of hybrid birds by tweaking the gullet for faster growth and better feed conversion.
• Organic markets: Niche markets are valid markets with consumers willing to pay a premium for broilers raised and feed to align with their preferences.
• Global middle class: The growing middle class in developing markets will drive grain and protein sales/exports in years to come.
• Regulation: The Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA) is driving the push for cleaner, better quality foods. The feed mill of the future is going to look a lot like the food processing plants of today. Feed, for example, has surpassed food in terms of accuracy of ingredients.
“There are a lot of parallels on the processing and the feed milling as far as food safety, quality — it’s really becoming a process control issues,” says Mitchell Pate, director of poultry research unit, Auburn University.” If you can control your process, then you do a better job and the whole industry is going to have to adapt to a new level of process control, and I think we’ll be able to define the optimum conditions, the critical control points in the process that will help all mills and give them new knowledge to make good decisions.”
• Rising grain costs: "Cheap" feed ingredients are a thing of the past so the challenge for the animal industries is to get every bit of nutrition they can from their feed, efficiently and with little waste, explains Dr. Don Conner, professor and department head, Auburn Poultry Science.
“The competition between animal feed with human feed and fuel will get even more competitive in years to come,” Conner says.
To learn more about Auburn's Poultry Science program, visit the College of Agriculture's website.
Auburn University, College of Agriculture Facts
• The College of Agriculture’s eight academic departments: Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology; Agronomy and Soils; Animal Sciences; Biosystems Engineering; Entomology and Plant Pathology; Fisheries and Allied Aquaculture; Horticulture; and Poultry Science
• Job placement for College of Agriculture graduates in horticulture, agricultural communications, poultry science and turfgrass degree programs is nearly 100% at the time of graduation.