By Margo Hale, NCAT Livestock Specialist and Southeast Regional Office Director
Finding sources of feed often presents a challenge for sustainable or organic poultry producers. Many producers would like to source local and organic feeds, and many would prefer diets that do not rely heavily on corn and soybeans. In order to do this, farmers must look to alternative poultry feeds that provide protein and energy.
One challenge in organic poultry feed is supplying methionine, an essential amino acid. Most organic poultry feeds use synthetic methionine because there are no natural methionine sources commercially available. Researchers have been working on strains of yeast or bacteria, potato protein, and corn gluten meal to provide this essential protein. Unfortunately, these organic alternatives to synthetic methionine are not yet readily available. See the ATTRA publication Organic Poultry Production: Providing Adequate Methionine for more information.
Researching Potential Methionine and Protein Sources
Fishmeal can be a source of high quality protein for poultry diets, including being a source of methionine. Organic regulations do allow farmers to use fishmeal as a feed supplement. However, some producers may be concerned that fishmeal production could contribute to unsustainable management of natural resources, including overfishing. To address those concerns, researchers have been investigating the use of Asian carp to process for fishmeal and natural methionine. Asian carp are an invasive species with very low market value. This problem species could be a sustainable solution for organic poultry diets.
Potential Methionine and Protein Sources: On-Farm Production
There are alternative protein sources that aren’t commercially available, but can be grown on-farm to replace or supplement common poultry feedstuffs. Producing insects for poultry feed can be one such option. Any pastured poultry producer knows their birds love insects! While birds harvest their own insects on pasture, there is growing interest in raising house crickets, mealworms, house flies, and black soldier flies as poultry feed. These insects can provide high-quality nutrition for poultry and don’t require much water or space for production.
Worms are another potential source of poultry feed. They are a high protein feed and have methionine levels similar to fishmeal. In addition, worms and other insects such as black soldier flies convert food scraps and crop wastes, making them sustainable additions to a diversified farm. Besides harvesting worms for poultry feed, their castings are a high-value soil amendment. See the ATTRA publication Vermicomposting: The Basics.
For more information on the topic of alternative poultry feeds, please listen to the ATTRA podcast Alternative Feed for Poultry. In the podcast, NCAT Specialist Margo Hale has a conversation with Dr. Anne Fanatico about these topics. Anne explains the production of many of these alternative feed sources. She also discusses ways to integrate these feeds into sustainable poultry enterprises.
**This article is based on the journal article: Fanatico, A.C., K. Arsi, I. Upadhyaya, J. Morales Ramos, D. Donoghue, and A.M. Donoghue. 2018. Sustainable Fish and Invertebrate Meals for Methionine and Protein Feeds in Organic Poultry Production. Journal of Applied Poultry Research. Volume 27, Issue 4. https://doi.org/10.3382/japr/pfy037
This work was funded by the Organic Transitions Program USDA-NIFA-2015-51106.