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NIRS Evaluation of Grain Value for Animal Performance – The Alberta Experience

In Alberta, Canada, an initiative to develop new NIRS calibrations for evaluation of grain value for animal performance has increased producer confidence in NIRS, proving it to be a valuable technology for the advancement of the agriculture livestock and crop sectors. 

By Rob Hand, Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund Ltd. &  Mary Lou Swift, Alberta Agriculture and Rural Development

Alberta is a province located in western Canada. In addition to oil, Alberta is known for its agriculture exports of grains, oilseeds (meal), cattle and pigs. Traditionally, barley and canola meal have been the feed grain / protein grown and used in our livestock industries. More recently, wheat, and dry distiller’s grain with solubles (DDGS) have had significant increases in use. Given that energy represents the largest cost factor in a diet, Alberta producers must be able to properly value ingredients in order to be competitive in the global marketplace.

Ensuring accuracy and confidence

NIRS was seen as the tool to provide a rapid measure of nutrient content, and in particular energy value of feed grains. The technology has been used for many years in grain terminals within Western Canada. The issue with NIRS was producer confidence in the equations for our feed grains. Australian or European barley was viewed as different from western Canadian barley so there was a strong need to either modify existing or develop new calibrations to ensure accuracy and confidence.

For swine, it was an easy decision to develop calibrations for digestible energy (DE). Drs. Ruurd Zijlstra at the University of Alberta and Mary Lou Swift with Alberta Agriculture developed NIRS calibration models for DE in energy and wheat based on published in vitro (Regmi et al, 2008; 2009) and in vivo procedures. The calibration and validation statistics include the following accuracy for barley (SE of cross validation = 62.0 kcal/kg; R2 =0.88) and wheat (SE of cross validation = 72.1 kcal/kg; R2 =0.82).

The use of NIRS to determine DDGS fat content was readily accepted by the feedlot industry. However, it was not clear as to what constituent or digestibility measurement of feed grains was related to feedlot animal performance in terms of growth and feed efficiency. Therefore, research was needed to develop practical measures to relate animal performance to feed grain value. This work, currently ongoing, includes measurements of starch disappearance in the rumen, development of a grain shatter index and fecal starch index, and an acidosis index. All measurements are being used to develop NIRS calibration models.

Increasing confidence in  NIRS

The next important step was getting these calibration models into and being used by the industry. To complement the work and alleviate some of the risk of on-farm use of new technology the Government of Alberta assisted with research funds (Feeding Initiative Program) and with a grant (NIRS equipment grant). To date, 24 NIRS machines have been supported in the Alberta farm community on operations willing to share and further develop NIRS’s practical and everyday use. These operations include feedlots, swine and layer operations, feed mills and consulting nutritionists. The development of an NIRS user network has been instrumental in trouble shooting and in building confidence in NIRS use. It has been about feed grain value, accuracy of equations and confidence in its use. Today, these machines are being routinely used by the industry for measurement of moisture, protein, fiber (crude, acid, neutral detergent), ash, starch, lipid in barley, wheat, triticale, canola seed and meal, DDGS (wheat and corn), soybean meal, and DE (wheat and barley). Future calibration models will include measurements of starch degradability in barley and fecal starch content. Also in development are calibration models to predict complete feed (all species) composition (including amino acids) as well as forage (dried and ground, intact fresh and total mixed rations).

In summary, NIRS is proving to be a valuable technology for the advancement of the agriculture livestock and crop sectors in Alberta Canada. If you would like more information about Alberta’s program, please contact Mr. Rob Hand (rob@acidf.ca) or Mary Lou Swift (mary-lou.swift@gov.ab.ca).

(Regmi, P. et al. 2008. J. Anim. Sci. 86:2619; Regmi et al. 2009. J. Anim. Sci. 87: 3620).

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