Feather Meal And Its Nutritional Benefits In Poultry, Ruminant And Other Feeds

feather meal

Looking for a way to greatly improve the cost-effectiveness of feeding your livestock? Then consider the use of feather meal in your livestock feed.

Feather meal is the most important chicken byproduct after processing. It is very important because it can be used as a cheap source of the most expensive component in livestock feed, protein. 

Livestock feed is made up of different ingredients, each assigned to supply one or more nutrient elements needed to eliminate the deficiency of those nutrients and to enhance the performance of the animal.



Energy source and protein source are the macro components of livestock feed; they are required in relatively high quantities compared to other sources of nutrients. In this article, I would focus on feather meal as a rich protein source in livestock feed.

Again, protein is the most expensive nutrient in livestock feed. This is why the sources of protein in livestock feed are usually 2 or more. Apart from achieving a balance of amino acid, the price of different protein sources contributes to the use of multiple sources of protein in livestock feed.

There are two main sources of protein in livestock feed; they are animal sources and plant sources. Each of these sources has standard or conventional sources. Feather meal falls under the category of the animal source but it is not a conventional source of crude protein, as it has not been widely used in feed formulation probably because of inadequate information about its nutritional benefits. This article provides all you need to know about feather meal, its benefits, and how best it can be used in livestock feed.



The conventional animal source of protein is fishmeal but the most widely used source of protein is soybean. The limiting factor of fishmeal in livestock feed is the price and the fishy taint it imprints in the animal products after consumption. These disadvantages are the advantages of feather meal over fishmeal.

Nutritional Benefits of feather meal in livestock feed.

Feather meal is made from feathers of poultry birds, either chickens or turkey. Feathers account for about 7% of the live weight of the birds; they are naturally very rich in a protein called keratin. It is a structural protein with very low digestibility when fed to monogastric livestock like poultry, rabbit, and swine; this is because of the high fiber content of keratin. 

Raw feather meal cannot be used directly in poultry feed formulation; this is because of its low digestibility. To make feather meal digestible, it has to go through the process of hydrolysis. This means cooking feathers with steam; it involves partially hydrolyzing the feathers under elevated heat and pressure and then grinding and drying the remnants.



The extent of this hydrolyzation affects its quality if less than 75% the crude protein content is digestible. Hydrolization of the feathers before drying breaks down the protein bonds in the feathers and makes feather meal highly digestible. The nutritional composition of feather meal reads as follows:

Nutritional Content Quantity (%DM)
Dry matter 92.1
Crude protein 85.7
Metabolizable energy 23.5 MJ/Kg DM
Crude fiber 0.9
 
Minerals g/kg DM
Calcium 12.7
Potassium 1.3
Phosphorus 8.2
Sodium 1.3
Magnesium 0.9
Manganese 16 mg/dm
Zinc 142 mg/dm
Copper 10 mg/dm
Iron 625 mg/dm
 
 Amino acids  % protein
Alanine 4.6
Arginine 6.7
Aspartic acid 6.7
Cystine 4.3
Glutamic acid 10.6
Glycine 7.3
Histindine 0.8
Isoleucine 4.9
Leucine 8.0
Lysine 2.1
Methionine  0.7
Phenylalanine   4.7
Proline 9.4
Serine 11.4
Threonine 4.6
Tryptophan 0.6
Tyrosine 2.5
Source: feedipedia.org

Feather Meal In Poultry Feed

Feather meal had been used in several trials with poultry birds feed and the results were very laudable. Poultry birds cannot digest raw feather meal but after hydrolysis, it becomes very palatable and digestible.



Feather meal can replace fishmeal in poultry feed without compromising the performance of the birds. Although, Feather meal is deficient in methionine, this can be supplemented with other protein sources like blood meal.

It was reported that the supplementation of methionine at a level up to 0.2 – 0.5% in feed with feather meal improve shell quality in layers and carcass quality in broilers.

Feather meal can be included in poultry diet at a level up to 6% in broiler feeds, 7% in layer feed and 5% in turkey feed. The supplementation of feather meal with lysine and methionine is essential for better performance in poultry birds and other monogastric livestock like pig and rabbit.

Read also: Chicken Feeding Guide: For Broilers And Layers

Feather Meal In Ruminant Feed

By the nature of the ruminants’ stomach, they can utilize any fibrous feed maximally. Feather meal is a good source of protein for cattle, goat, and sheep. They can utilize raw or hydrolyzed feather meal maximally without affecting the digestibility of the protein content.

The supplementation of methionine and lysine is needed for calves, lambs, and kids fed with feather meal. This is because these young ruminants have underdeveloped stomach system; hence, they digest feed like the monogastric livestock before weaning. This is not the same in adult ruminants as the microbes in the rumen have the ability to synthesize other needed amino acid to supplement any deficient amino acid in the feather meal.   



Feather meal can be used as a major source of protein in cattle, goat and sheep ration as they can utilize it and solve the problem of deficiency within their digestive tract. Supplementation is only needed for calves, lamb, and kids.

Read also: Nutritional Requirements For Cattle, Goat, And Sheep

One of the ways livestock farmers make profits from livestock production is through the area of feeding. The same feeding determines the level of performance or production of any livestock enterprise. The use of feather meal is livestock feed is a great way of reducing the cost of feeding as it is a very cheap but highly nutritious protein source.

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Author: Agbabiaka Abdulquadri

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