Quality control and use of NIR technologies in feed production

All feed millers either have their own lab or send samples to an external lab. An NIR instrument is a very good investment for all feed millers with a yearly production of at least 50,000 tons and can be a good investment also for smaller sites. With an NIR instrument, it is possible to analyze each batch of raw materials that arrives, as well as each batch of finished feed produced. That would not be feasible by wet chemistry analysis.

Murat Bekar
Sales and Service Leader, MET (Middle East and Turkey)
PerkinElmer, Inc

Feed millers mix raw materials, such as grain, grain by-products, oilseed meal, amino acids, vitamins, and some additives. Adding to the mix the right proportions of each element is key to achieve a high-quality and profitable product. This is done by analyzing the major raw materials to find out their composition, which, in turn, makes it possible to calculate the most efficient mix: the “Least Cost Formulation,” as known in the industry.

Feed can be divided into types in different ways. For example, it can be divided based on the categories of animals it is intended for, or based on whether the feed is a complete feed or a supplement. Different animals are fed differently because their digestive systems work differently; as a result, we often refer to monogastric feed, ruminant feed and aquafeed.
• Monogastric animals have one stomach whereas ruminants have several stomachs. This category includes for example birds and pigs.
• Ruminants include cows, goats, and sheep.
• Aquafeed is the common denominator for all feeds intended for fish and other animals living in the water.

To select the suitable raw materials for producing a certain feed type according to customers’ needs, it is important to check the quality of ingredients as well as the finished product. The main parameters are moisture, protein, fat, fiber, starch, energy, ash, and amino acids.

For a quality control plan in a feed mill to be effective, it should include the analyses of the following parameters:

Moisture is key for two reasons: Firstly, if moisture is above 10%, there is a definite risk for microbial infection, which could potentially kill the animals through food poisoning. Secondly, if a product doesn’t reach the correct moisture levels (i.e.: it is too dry) profitability is compromised – as more product is needed to achieve the desired quantity.

Animals need protein to grow and, in the case of dairy cows, it is extremely important that the right quantity of this element is present in their feed for them to produce milk. If they don’t ingest enough protein, they grow more slowly and produce less milk. However, too much protein could also be harmful for the animals. For this reason, feed millers need to ensure that feed has the correct protein content for each type of animal – which also results in more cost-efficiency.

All animals need fat, but neither too much nor too little. As with protein, optimizing fat content is also cost-effective.

The correct fiber content is important from a nutritional point of view. Fiber is a difficult parameter to determine due to complexities around the reference method accuracy.

This is the main energy component of feed. Higher starch content gives a higher energy content which is often beneficial for the animals.

Energy is the calorific value of the feed, which is a vital element to take into consideration as, naturally, animals need a certain amount of energy for growing healthy and produce milk or eggs. Typically, this value is calculated by adding the calorific values from the protein, fat, starch, and the other elements in the feed.

Ash is what is left after the product has been incinerated. In practice, this refers to the mineral content of the feed. Some minerals are necessary, but if the ash content is too high, it typically means that the feed contains less energy.

Amino acids
Protein consists of amino acids, so it seems evident that animals need amino acids to grow and produce. The right proportion between different amino acids is very important to achieve an optimum feed.

As the ingredients available to the feed millers vary, the recipes of all individual feeds need to be updated regularly; this is called “formulation”. Each feed product is well defined with specifications on, for example, moisture, protein, and fat. The formulation aims at achieving the specifications in a cost-effective manner.

All information about the ingredients – prices and composition – is entered into a software, which calculates how to mix the available ingredients to reach the finished product’s specification at the lowest possible cost. This is called Least Cost Formulation, and the person who performs this task is a nutritionist.

Feed quality can be affected in several ways. Some examples are as follows:
• If the moisture level is too high there is a risk for microbial growth, which would decrease animal performance, and potentially could be lethal to the animals.

• If the protein level is too low the animals will not perform as they are expected to. If this happens once, farmers may not see the difference, but this soon becomes visible through lower growth rates, or/and less milk or eggs production. One percentage point too low of protein can cause broilers to grow noticeably slower (which tend to be evident to the farmer). The economic loss would be substantial.

• Too high energy levels in pig feed increases the fat content in the pig meat. As the meat’s fat content determines the price (too much fat means discounted prices) it is very important for farmers that their pigs’ feed contains the optimal calorific values.

• A high protein content in feed will result in more nitrogen (in the shape of ammonium salts) passing through the animals. In many countries the handling of nitrogen is regulated as it can over-fertilize rivers and lakes and put a high burden on water treatment plants. Thus, the farmer does not want to have too much protein, but rather optimized protein contents.

Fast analyzers based on Near-Infrared (NIR) technology are widely used in the feed and pet food industries. The primary use is to provide accurate analytical input for feed formulation by measuring raw materials at intake. Many mills also use their NIR instruments for in-process analysis and verification of final product quality. Perhaps, the most important reason why NIR has not yet reached its full potential is that previous instruments required local expertise and users were required to spend one to two hours per day grinding samples. The DA7250 NIR feed and grain analyzer greatly facilitates quality control, paving the road for improved product quality, as well as production savings. It is easy and safe to use assuring improved and simplified day-to-day usage, and offers unique speed, flexibility and accuracy -thereby minimizing out-of-spec production.

All feed millers either have their own lab or send samples to an external lab. An NIR instrument is a very good investment for all feed millers with a yearly production of at least 50,000 tons and can be a good investment also for smaller sites. With an NIR instrument, it is possible to analyze each batch of raw materials that arrives, as well as each batch of finished feed produced. That would not be feasible by wet chemistry analysis. The general experience is that feed millers who buy an NIR instrument quickly see an improvement in the ingredients they receive from their suppliers – who become aware of the feed millers’ ability to check every shipment of ingredients before it is accepted (leading to shipments rejection if specifications are not met). This is not possible with wet chemistry analysis, even if the lab is on-site, as the process takes several hours.

Feed millers sell animal feeds with very well-defined nutritional content. Protein, fat, fiber, starch, etc., need to be within very tight limits in order for the animals to grow at the right pace. The optimal contents vary by specie – being different for pigs, poultry, cows, or fish – and it also depends on the stage in the animal’s life. All in all, it’s not uncommon for a feed miller to produce 100 different feeds.

At the same time, a feed miller constantly monitors the price for all ingredients and makes purchasing decisions based on quality, price and nutritional value. These key aspects may determine that an ingredient is favored over another one (with similar nutritional values) at a certain point in time, but not a week later, for instance. As ingredients represent 80% of the total costs incurred by feed millers, it is essential for them to buy at the best possible price in order to drive profitability without compromising quality. As a result, one of the key advantages of monitoring raw material quality is the consequent ability to make the right purchase decisions, making sure that the formulation remains unaltered.

About Murat Bekar
Murat is Food Sales and Service Leader, MET (Middle East and Turkey) at PerkinElmer, Inc. Murat is a pioneer in the Food Market with more than 25 years loyal service within Perten, a PerkinElmer company, and track record of installed base. During his career, Murat has drived the growth of the Food portfolio across several companies, including Perten, Bioo and Delta.