Seaweed in animal feed may be a relatively unknown concept. Scientific studies have already shown its enormous potential and The Seaweed Company has been demonstrating many of its benefits in the field at scale. For livestock farmers it can bring promising sustainable, economic and health & wellbeing results in a broad range of animal types.
SEAWEED: A POWERFUL, NATURAL AND CLIMATE POSITIVE SOURCE OF NUTRIENTS
Seventy-one percent of Earth’s surface is covered with water. The ocean holds a vast array of resources that have been utilized by humans for centuries, with seaweed being one of them. While perceptions differ around the world, seaweed is often overlooked by Europeans. Beyond its use in Asian cuisine, many people lack knowledge on the potential applications or benefits of this powerful natural biomass source. However, humans have a long history with seaweed for food and medicine dating as far back as 2700 BC. The first rudimentary attempts of farming of seaweed began as early as 1670 in Japan.
Seaweed (macroalgae) is a plant-like organism which grows in a variety of forms and colours in the oceans as well as in brackish and freshwater environments. It is rich in minerals, vitamins and polysaccharides, with some species also containing larger amounts of amino acids, proteins, peptides, polyphenols and fatty acids. Globally there are some 12,000 species of seaweed of which only ca. 40 species are commercially exploited. They all grow without the need for additional resources like fresh water pesticides or fertilizer. Seaweed absorbs nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from the seawater and need to absorb CO2 in order to grow. Besides, seaweeds play an important role in providing ecosystem services: it forms an integral part of a complex food web and offers habitat, nursery grounds and shelter for different marine species.
Its biochemical composition and properties make seaweed a valuable material. Seaweed can be applied in a increasing range of applications ranging from food products and animal feed to cosmetics and chemicals for various industries. Many of these applications provide sustainable, low-carbon and less harmful alternatives to existing options, offering diverse environmental and health benefits.
Although seaweed farming is not a novel concept with over 30 million tonnes farmed in Asia every year, it has gained a lot of attention over the last decade as it might offer part of the solution for climate change.
ABOUT THE SEAWEED COMPANY
The Seaweed Company was founded in 2018 and produces its own seaweeds in Ireland, Morocco, India and The Netherlands. We are active throughout the entire cultivation process from seeding and system deployment to harvesting and processing.
The recent investment of Colruyt Group enables us to scale up fast to make real impact. We focus on marketing high-quality seaweed solutions for animal feed, agriculture – in the form of biostimulants – and human food. We implement regenerative, CO2-reducing concepts, products, and applications all over the globe that deliver impact on many areas. Our goal is to fully capture the value of seaweed.
Everything we do is economically inclusive, socially just and environmentally restorative. Seaweed has a positive effect on many challenges we face today like global warming, acidification of our oceans, diseases and inequality. After successful tests with agricultural entrepreneurs last year, several seaweed products have been marketed in the Blue Farming and Blue Health concepts
WHAT DOES THE CONCEPT “BLUE FARMING” STAND FOR?
As one of the European front runners in seaweed applications, The Seaweed Company offers sustainable seaweed based solutions to support agricultural and livestock farmers. Built on the core belief of The Seaweed Company to use the “blue” power of the sea to support agricultural activities on land, we have named this approach “Blue Farming”. The transition to a more plant-based diet and to more regenerative practices is progressing quickly in industrialized countries and that will fuel the Blue Farming transition even faster.
SO WHAT IS SO SPECIAL ABOUT OUR SEAWEED BLENDS?
Our livestock feed solutions are proprietary formulas based on uniquely selected and balanced sets of species of brown, green and red marine macro algae. As each type of seaweed brings its specific different bioactive compounds, combinations of seaweed enhances synergistic effects. And by using blends we mitigate potential negative consequences that using seaweed might encounter (e.g. heavy metals, iodine levels). Based on the specific animal needs and challenges we carefully select the right species to capitalize on the performance ingredients in the different seaweeds. Applying the seaweed blends in the animal’s diets, valuable benefits for the animals and the farmers are seen. The seaweed blends can be easily supplemented to the existing animal feed solutions in either dried or liquid form. And because of our vertically integrated nature with our own seaweed farms, The Seaweed Company can reliably deliver traceable and high-quality seaweed materials that fit the requirements and needs of today’s farmer.
SEAWEED BENEFITS FOR LIVESTOCK
In vivo studies on ruminants, pigs, poultry and rabbits reveal that some seaweeds have the potential to contribute to the protein and energy requirements of livestock, while others contain a number of bioactive compounds, which could be used as prebiotic for enhancing production and health status of both monogastric and ruminant livestock. Marine algae have a demonstrated potential to act as environmentally friendly biocides with no negative side effects and could fulfil the need of alternative and safe supplements to increase health and welfare in livestock. Therefore, seaweeds can be considered as a sustainable alternative for current chemical use.
OUR PIG EXAMPLE
In a recent field study with 1,200 post-weaning piglets at the farm of the Lavrijsen Agriculture Group in The Netherlands, the seaweed blend supplement for piglets has delivered strong results. During the study period with 0.7% inclusion of the blend in the piglets’ diets, the treated piglets had almost no diarrhoea and were very active, alert and curious as compared to non-treated group which were sedate and shy in comparison. The treatment group appeared to be less prone to disease; they showed better resistance against Greasy pig disease (staphylococcus hyicus), resulting in lower use of antibiotics (and associated costs) and a 25% lower dropout. Furthermore, daily growth (ADG) and food conversion rate (FCR) showed respectively 1% and 2.5 % improvement. Visual inspections from the pig farm manager confirmed the data as the skin shine of the trial piglets reportedly was very obvious in comparison to the control group.
The farm owner Roel Lavrijsen, who has been involved as one of the frontrunning believers in the benefits that seaweeds can offer to his farming practices, has been very confident about the success of seaweeds as feed supplement. Having observed the piglet trial results and capitalizing on the benefits he and his farm managers decided to continue using seaweed in the diets of their piglets. We have started implementing and expanding the seaweed inclusion in the diets to the sows and finishers. Furthermore, when applying seaweeds in the diets of finisher pigs, improved quality has also been observed by the slaughter inspector who noticed a remarkable absence of abscesses in the carcasses of the trial pigs. With these multiple applications underway at his farm, he fully embraces the seaweed supplements as a natural, sustainable solution for his pigs with a sounds business case.
ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL TRIAL WITH BROILERS
Another promising result has been observed when our seaweed blend was fed in a large field trial at a Dutch broiler farmer. After a 6 week trial with 34,000 broilers consuming daily the seaweed additive at 0.4%, there was no need for receiving antibiotics and the veterinarian visual inspections led to positive insights. The broilers faeces looked more natural, their feathers seemed thicker and the broilers showed lower stress levels. The veterinarian already suspected a better health & wellbeing of the seaweed-fed chickens with the avoidance of antibiotics being a major indication of stronger resilience of the animals. Eventually the significantly better 6-week IKB score (3.18 vs 7.19 control) confirmed and strengthened the already positive quantitative results.
Both the collected trial figures on health & wellbeing improvements and the improved performance (FCR, lower meat rejection) complemented with the visual observations of the farmer’s veterinarian gave the farmer sufficient insights and to develop continued interest to using the seaweed supplement.
HOW TO JUSTIFY ADDING ADDITIONAL COSTS IN THIS ALREADY TIGHT MARKET?
Adding seaweed in the animal premix, is indeed adding costs to the final formula. However, as the offered solution contains a lot of natural containing ingredients like minerals and vitamins, some ingredients in the existing formula can be replaced which is beneficial from a cost perspective. In addition, one should not only look at the costs of the seaweed solution itself. Lower FCR, no antibiotics/medicine and better-quality meat will make the use of seaweed-based products commercially viable.
Having started with an initial focus on poultry, swine and ruminant applications, the team is now also testing seaweed blends and applications for aquaculture (e.g. salmon, shrimp), equine, calves and pets. All with the positive impact benefits in mind and adhering to the principles of a reliable, sustainable and high-quality value chain: sustainably cultivated, (hand) harvested, (sun)dried and fully traceable. Embracing seaweeds in animal feed means contributing to positive impact on animal health and regeneration of our planet. Looking at global growth and food production, sustainable animal production is likely to only further increase. And with global bacterial resistance and a ban on using in-feed antibiotics, seaweed has a promising role to play in various animal industries.
In short, seaweeds promote positive immune response and gut health, improvement of digestive processes and result in better animal health and production yields. For livestock farmers this means healthier animals with higher value and reduced cost to grow, combined with a step towards more sustainable farming. Applications with seaweeds have lots of benefits to offer, many of them fully in line with principles of the EU Green Deal to make big steps towards more sustainable agriculture. It is envisaged that seaweed extracts will form an inherent part of the feeding strategy in farmed animals in the future. This is amongst others laid out in the EU Organic Action Plan (March ’21) where is stated that an EU algae industry will be strongly supported to ensure the supply of algae as alternative feed material for organic animal farming.
• S. Kraan, 2022. Seaweeds and Their Products for the Health of Livestock. In book: Sustainable Global Resources Of Seaweeds Volume 1 (pp.331-356)
• Hidden champion of the ocean – Seaweed as a growth engine for a sustainable European future; Seaweed for Europe, 2020
• Seaweed global demand: Component of interest and short-and medium-term trends. World Bank Group, 2020
• Seaweeds for livestock diets: A review. Makkar et al, 2016
About Ingrid Jonker
Ingrid has more than 10 years of Business Development experience in the Food & Nutrition space and gained extensive knowledge on seaweed and the value added solutions it can bring .