In each of the fully lit pens 15 birds are settling into their new home. In their troughs are feed and water, and for the first days of their life the chickens will have light for 23 hours of the day so they can get to know their new surroundings. So far, their life is pretty much like that of many chickens bred in Norway. Their feed is made according to Norwegian standards. But for this trial some of the ingredients have been replaced by yeast from Norwegian spruce trees.
These chickens are part of an important innovation. They play a crucial part in exploring whether we can replace protein-rich feed resources we currently need to import, particularly soybean meal, with sustainable, locally produced ingredients. In this case, yeast produced on sugars derived from Norwegian spruce.
“Using yeast from trees as a feed ingredient can be a more sustainable approach to animal feed, as it enables us to produce protein-rich ingredients right here in Norway,” explains Khaled Itani. He is a researcher at Foods of Norway, a centre for research-based innovation (CRI) hosted by NMBU, the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.
Khaled’s research aims to investigate the potential for replacing some of the common protein ingredients in chicken feed with protein from yeast, as well as study whether this yeast could be beneficial for the intestinal health and immune system of the birds. The trial lasted for 34 days, and preliminary results show that for the first 22 days the birds with up to 30 per cent protein from yeast in their diet performed similarly to those given the control diet without yeast. For the trial as a whole, replacing 20 per cent of the total protein with protein from yeast gave similar results as the control diet.
“More research will improve our knowledge about yeast as a feed ingredient, especially when it comes to digestibility. Therefore, an even higher inclusion rate may also be possible,” says Itani.
Yeast from trees is a new feed ingredient and there is definitely room for more and improved research, but Khaled Itani is clear: the results are promising.
“So far this trial has been a success - we now know that the yeast is safe for the chickens, they ate the feed and their performance was satisfactory,” he says.
The feed was produced at NMBU’s Centre for Feed Technology (Fôrtek) in collaboration with Felleskjøpet Fôrutvikling, and the trial was conducted at the university’s Livestock Production Research Centre (SHF) in Ås. These research facilities are fully computerized, meaning that parameters such as humidity, heating, ventilation, light and more can be controlled and monitored.
“This certainly improves the quality of the experiments,” Itani says.
Before moving to Norway, Khaled Itani studied and worked with farming and poultry in his home country of Lebanon and in Yemen. Based on his experience he became interested in working with feed and googled where to find the best education in the field. The expertise at NMBU was alluring, and he ended up moving to Norway. Now he holds a master’s degree in feed manufacturing technology and a PhD in poultry nutrition – and combines the perspectives of both a nutritionist and a feed technologist, which has its benefits, he says.
He explains how there are numerous factors to take into consideration when it comes to a trial like this. The chickens’ feet, for instance, may offer hints as to the chickens’ health and welfare. If the litter moisture is too high, for instance, this may indicate digestive problems - and stepping in soft litter all day might cause lesions and sores on the birds’ feet.
“Welfare issues are key to us when conducting our research,” explains Itani, and adds: “There are adjustments we could have made along the way if necessary, such as adding more wood shavings to the chicks’ pens. Luckily, there were no such issues in this trial.”
Investigating health effects
The 34 days of the trial are over, but the experiment is not finished. Some of the samples collected from the chickens have been sent off to research partners at the University of Copenhagen for processing, and some have yet to be analysed at NMBU. Khaled needs this data to get an overall picture and to draw conclusions. He is, however, optimistic.
Foods of Norway’s director, Professor Margareth Øverland, agrees. She is also looking forward to investigating the results even further.
“This work is very significant for Foods of Norway, as we can now conclude that the yeast-based feed also works well for chickens. We have completed several successful trials with yeast in the diets of other farm animals, so this just adds to its potential as a valuable feed ingredient. The next step is to investigate the positive health effects of yeast in chicken feed, which is yet another important part of our research,” says Øverland.
- The yeast was produced by fermentation company Lallemand based on sugars processed at the biorefinery facilities at Borregaard. Both companies are partners in Foods of Norway
- The CRI Foods of Norway hosted by the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) aims to develop local feed resources from blue and green biomass using new technology and methods.