Feed ingredients will be the main focus area for mitigating CO² emissions with slower-growing chicken.

According to Hubbard technical director James Bentley, 77% of chicken’s base CO² contributions/KG comes from the feed.

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Speaking at the recent Hubbard Premium Forum held in Evian, France, he said: “If we add the Land Use Change (LUC) component in, that increases to nearly 90%.”

Based on calculations for typical European broiler feed, 85% of the feed footprint is due to the ingredients, while 15% comes from processing and transport.

Dr Bentley outlined what he saw as the three main opportunities for reducing the global warming potential for slower-growing chickens.

Breed choice and efficiency

Choosing the most appropriate breed for the concept is critical, he said.

Hubbard offers a range of Premium females and males, producing commercial breeds such as the JA757, JA787 and the new Redbro.

These are all used in the UK, exhibiting different growth rates and feed conversion ratios (FCR).

Getting the FCR as low as possible is a crucial objective, even with slower-growing chickens such as the Hubbard JA757.

Maintaining the appropriate protein levels in rations is also essential,” added Dr Bentley.

“We do think there are savings to be made in the amino acid percentage in the feed versus conventional broilers, depending on the concept.”

Alternative proteins

While alternative protein sources are attracting a lot of interest and debate, Dr Bentley explained there was a lot of work before they may become mainstream.

“Alternative ingredients are much more difficult as there are so many variables involved.”

A lot of research has taken place, for example, with field beans as an alternative protein source.

But results are often mixed, he suggested. Major poultry operations need consistent inputs to maintain efficiency.

It is, therefore, challenging to see what alternative ingredients could effectively replace high LUC soya.

Practical challenges

There are also practical difficulties in implementing alternative ingredients.

“The big problem is supply chains,” said Dr Bentley, “Some of these crops just aren’t agronomically attractive to farmers and quantities are limited.”

Other technologies, such as insect protein, processed animal protein, grass protein and yeast, are on the horizon but aren’t immediate solutions in Europe.

“Getting an accurate calculation on CO² rates for insect protein is not easy. There is a lot of discussion, but practical data to assess its potential versus low LUC certified soya are limited as the insect industry is still in an early stage of development.”

Circular food system

“In Africa, it is different. There is already a wider choice of ingredients to grow them on, and the cost-benefit versus imported soya means it is a well-developed feed ingredient industry.”

Dr Bentley said there were questions about the long-term benefit of using some of these ingredients, not just for CO² reduction but for their impact on regenerative or circular agriculture, where they may play an important role.

“We may develop different models where we aren’t just totally reliant on an ingredient which is the least cost and easiest to obtain,” he suggested.

The current focus on least cost meant that feed was often high density with a requirement for high soya.

Certified soya

As more certified soya becomes available, there would be a LUC dividend which would naturally reduce the CO² footprint of South American soya.

“It changes the balance of ingredients. If you move back to looking at all ingredients without LUC then it takes you back to saying soyabean is the best.”

However, Dr Bentley questioned what impact this might have strategically: “If we have total reliance on soya then we have issues with water use, biodiversity and geopolitics.

“So, we have to think how more local ingredients can be part of a chicken concept, not just animal welfare but other things that may be important.”

“Very little research has been conducted on circular agriculture. This is a space researchers really need to focus on more for poultry.”

The Norwegian integrator Norsk Kylling was given as an example of a business which has moved to 100% European Chicken Commitment but also continued to focus on its carbon footprint.

“In Europe, it doesn’t mean that changing the welfare concept means that you’re not going to be able to achieve your net zero targets for the production chain.

“We can continue moving in a positive direction, providing that we have access to the right ingredients which allow us to do it,” concluded Dr Bentley.