Local ingredients key to better poultry farming

Poultry farming is about to become a whole lot cheaper after new research found local crops can be safely and effectively added to feed that can still raise healthy chickens.

University of the South Pacific’s Associate Professor of Animal Science Dr Siaka Diarra has published preliminary results of a study into how useful local protein crops can be in the development of Samoa’s poultry industry.

His study, published in Poultry Science, found copra and cassava contain equivalent protein levels to that of expensive commercial feed, and that farmers can safely switch out a portion of their feed supplies with local crops with no adverse effects.

“Feed ingredients like copra meal have moderate protein content comparable to the protein content of commercial broiler feed,” he said.

“No matter how much commercial feed you replace with copra meal you will make a difference in price.”

Cutting down Samoa’s reliance on imported and often expensive commercial feed supplies is one of the first steps to a sustainable poultry industry, Dr. Diarra said.

Commercial feed, usually made up of corn, soy beans, barely and the like are not grown in commercial quantities anywhere in the South Pacific and all the farmers he has encountered import hugely expensive commercial feed.

“This is a major contributor to the cost of poultry products in the region, the egg and meat.” 

Rather than rush to replace the imported product, Dr. Diarra began his work looking at how to at least reduce the cost. 

The greens and root crops available in Samoa and elsewhere in the Pacific are not easily broken down by the common species of hens and roosters grown commercially, but the local breed consumes them happily.

“If we want to achieve the best productivity from the improved chicken breeds, we have to get the best feed, and the best feed is made from ingredients that are not available here.”

So Dr. Diarra has dedicated most of his research to reducing the cost of feeding poultry, and to make the most of the local breed in Samoa. 

In 2014 he even studied whether the invasive and crop damaging snail could realistically be used for chicken feed, and found the chickens that consumed snails produced nicer eggs. 

With a better local supply of quality poultry, Samoa can move away from the irregular, low quality imported chicken supplies and reduce the price of eggs. 

He said already, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries’ steps towards improving Samoa’s food security and local industry is impressive, especially by increasing the cassava supply.

Through U.S.P.s' supplies, M.A.F. has distributed 5,000 cassava seedlings to farmers around Samoa, and the Samoa Trust Estate Corporation has taken 5,000 to begin a large plantation too.

“Cassava is one of the crops of the future, it needs very little management, you plant it and go,” Dr. Diarra said.

“In many countries of the world, the cassava leaf is a delicacy and we cook a lot of soup with it, because it has good protein and is health promoting.”

It requires some hours in the sun to dry it of its poisonous toxins, and can be crushed by hand or simply left out for the chickens to eat as they choose. 

Dr. Diarra’s research is not quite complete. Still as yet under explored is the full impacts on the meat composition of the broilers, the fat composition and cholesterol levels in broilers who consume this diluted feed. 

“We have to look at how the chickens respond, not only in weight gain but other parameters. The chickens may be gaining weight but does this have any impact on their overall welfare? 

“We don’t look at only cost, before the cost you have to look at the health of the animal first.”

But Dr. Diarra expects copra and cassava to have positive health impacts on the animals, because they do in humans. 

“Most of the local products we have growing around us contain substances that are cholesterol reducing, and that is why our forefathers lived longer because they were eating a lot of natural products.

“Whatever benefits they have in our body, they will have similar benefits in the chicken body. But those are the aspects we could not address in this research.”

Dr. Diarra said he imagines every Samoan farmer should be planting, if they are not already, these feed crops on their land and will have free and readily available feed supplies for their flocks.

There is no need to centralise and commercialise feed, which will only drive up prices and fail the purpose of replacing the imported feed with local products.

In his home country Mali, the relationship between researchers and farmers is the kind Dr. Diarra envisions for Samoa.

“We don’t have commercial feed meals, there are researchers. Their mandate is to continuously do research on different feed formulations using available resources and disseminate the information to farmers, and farmers produce their own feed based on researched information.

“I dream of something similar for Samoa.”

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