The next major innovation in animal agriculture worldwide will be in the nutrition area. It won’t be one big event, but rather a series of innovations that combined add up to significant performance, improvement and cost reduction. It will improve our ability to compete in the world market in spite of our government’s best effort to drag us back into the Stone Age.

Ironically, improving speed, quality, consistency and cost reduction go hand-in-hand. Poultry, beef and pork producers have a built-in advantage because most of the major producers are vertically integrated. Vertical integration allows a producer to change the way an animal is raised reaping the benefit universally. The practice also results in more consistent products and results in driving out cost

Recently I met a cattle-nutrition consultant in southwestern Nebraska who has instituted an interesting group of procedures with his clients, who combined were raising tens of thousands of cows. The concept reminds me of how a vertically integrated producer gains efficiency.

The consultant genetically selects animals that used protein efficiently … not the big super muscular cows, but instead more moderate cows. He trains them from an early age to have efficient feeding habits. Their ration was a combination of wet distillers grain (WDG).

WDG is blended with a balanced ration of minerals supplemented 365 day per year. In the winter, he modifies the protein input to compensate for the lower external temperatures that would require an animal to burn more protein to maintain body temperature. The result is lower equipment/labor cost, improved feed conversion and less disease resulting in significant cost reduction and improved consistency.

Our government has proposed elimination of human antibiotic use to maximize animal health. I have explored the area of direct-fed microbials (DFM) in great detail. These products have great value.

In addition to helping producers reduce dependence on antibiotics, they can also be helpful with the antibiotic withdrawal period and for producers who have eliminated them. They introduce live, beneficial microbes into the animal’s digestive system, improving the animal’s gut health. One DFM that I’ve studied — Natufermen — is a low-inclusion product, and when used as directed, results include improved tight junctions in the gut, increased feed conversion, lower illness/mortality and accelerated weight gains in poultry and swine. Due to the low inclusion rate and performance improvements, this product has a nice payback.

Many of the issues we are dealing with today in animal production are related to the digestive system and gut health. It is not just gut health, but the safety of the food supply demanded by the consumer. Future research will center on products and services that will improve gut health through natural means and help with environmental safety issues such as Salmonella in egg production.

Companies focused on and dedicated to developing natural solutions for gut health and environmental issues will become the leaders in the industry. These are the companies animal-production operations will look to as partners for solving their production issues and increasing their profits.

An area to keep an eye on for new developments is that of enzymes. Enzymes have been in use in the poultry industry by producers for years. Like all catalysts, enzymes work by lowering the activation energy (Ea‡) for a reaction, thus dramatically increasing the rate of the reaction.

As a result, products are formed faster, and reactions reach their equilibrium state more rapidly. Enzymes are selected for their substrates and speed up only a few reactions from among many possibilities. The set of enzymes made in a cell determines which metabolic pathways occur in that cell. Properly applied, they help break down proteins into smaller molecules, making the ration easier to digest. The result is improving feed conversion. It should be noted that it is important to make sure the enzyme matches the application.

With innovation also comes the usual group of snake oil salespeople whose products aren’t what they are represented to be and/or don’t deliver the promised performance. Don’t operate with blinders on.

If you’re not improving your performance in the food business, you will fall behind quickly. Stay informed and on top of the latest advancements. And of course, for more information, look for future columns on these topics in The National Provisioner.

Dan Emery has 25 years experience in the food industry, including 15 as vice president of marketing at Pilgrim's Pride. He is directing Meaningful Solutions, a company founded to assist clients in solving problems.