Feed efficiency system receives global recognition

Bruce Jobson looks at how the feed efficiency system has received global recognition

The delegation from China tour the Keenan factory
The delegation from China tour the Keenan factory

As the world’s population increases to more than seven billion and additional mouths need to be fed, increasing animal feed efficiency has become the “hot” topic.

With a population of 1.3billion people, and increasing, China has raised its game. On an economic basis, the world’s most populous country has been increasing its annual GDP by 8 to 10%.

That is light years ahead of UK and EU annual growth rate figures, whatever way official statistics are packaged-up in terms of economic recovery

China faces immense challenges; the country is feeding a population on a daily-basis the combined size of the extended EU, USA, Canada and Mexico.

But China is not alone; the rest of the world including the UK; faces similar challenges. Unfortunately, it can be argued, UK farmers face an uphill challenge owing to the EU Common Agricultural Policy, which restricts agricultural land use in return for environmental payments.

Not so in China.A high ranking government delegation from China recently toured the Keenan factory in Ireland as a result of Keenan first introducing its integrated cattle-feeding technology systems at a major Beijing Dairy Symposium in 2009.

Clearly, China took onboard the keynote messages.

The Keenan mixer wagon mantra is fast becoming “more production from the same amount of feed or; the same level of production from less feed

According to the company, improvement in animal diet and using its Mech-fibre system and PACE technology can increase feed efficiency levels between 10 to 20%.

The official tour of the Keenan factory was organised by the Irish and Chinese Embassies, and officials attending included the Chinese Vice Minister of Agriculture, Dr Zhang Taolin and colleagues from the Ministry of Agriculture as well as, the Embassy of The People’s Republic of China.

China intends to increase annual milk production from the current 40 million tonnes by a further 25% to 50 million tonnes by 2020. The country views the Keenan system as a means to achieving these production goals.

China is also aiming to further encourage feed efficiency levels and growth strategy both within the dairy sector and rural environment.

The Keenan feed efficiency strategy allows farmers to increase milk production from existing resources rather than increasing herd expansion. This strategy, however, is not limited to China and is relevant to the UK and Ireland.

Given EU milk quota restrictions are due to be lifted in two years hence; Ireland is expected to increase national milk output by 50% between 2015 and 2020, from its current 5 million tonnes.

CEO Gerard Keenan said: “China has recognised the impact of Keenan integrated nutrition technology on improving feed efficiency levels and reducing unit feed costs, whilst at the same time, improving cow health and the environment.

Peer reviewed papers, cite over 2,000 farms in eight countries and three continents, clearly demonstrate 70% to 90% of farms having positive effects on feed efficiency margin and feed costs.”

Dr Zhang emphasised developing bilateral relationships with EU countries was important for the growth of agriculture within China.

Dr Zhang Taolin, vice-minister of agriculture
Dr Zhang Taolin, vice-minister of agriculture

Speaking through an interpreter he said, “Our friendship with Keenan has been developed for a number of years, and we hope to promote and develop our relationship further and in particular within the areas of agricultural science and technological advancement.”

A recent bilateral agreement is the result of Keenan’s long-term relationship with China according to Yorkshire-based Michael French, north-east regional manager for the past 19 years.

“It has taken four years for the company to secure a breakthrough into China and we aim to further develop our existing global-markets.

“The company exports over 20% of its mixer wagons to UK dairy and beef farmers and we currently have over 700 mixer-wagons in operation within the region. We are confident  in our feed efficiency savings, and are currently offering farmers a money-back guarantee based on a 10% reduction in feed and forage per unit of milk or beef output,” he said.

Keenan employs more than 220 people on a global-basis and exports 90% of its sales to 31,000 customers in over 40 countries.  Earlier this year, Keenan CEO Gerard Keenan, was invited to present the keynote speech at the 3rd International Symposium on Dairy Nutrition and Milk Quality in Beijing.

Since then, Keenan has recently agreed with Chinese partner, Shanghai Yanhua Biotech, a deal worth 15million euros, to supply mixer wagons and nutritional back-up.

Addressing the visiting dignitaries from China, Mr Keenan said, “This is a very proud and momentous visit for our company. The agreement to introduce our equipment and feeding solutions to China will help to improve feed efficiency by up to 20% and produce more milk from less feed.

“By following the Keenan System, the resulting benefits will include integrated nutrition technology on improving feed efficiency; reducing unit feed costs, whilst at the same time, improve animal health and the environment.”

Mr Keenan also announced discussions are advancing on the establishment of a global Dairy Research and Technology Centre. The first objective of the centre is to improve feed efficiency. Over the past 16 months, protein feed price spikes have increased costs and UK margins have come under increasing pressure and alternative feeds have been sought.

Recent research at the University of Illinois, using the US equivalent to Dried Distillers Grains with Solubles (DDGS) has shown introducing biofuel co-products into the diet can reduce reliance on expensive imported protein such as soya bean meal, sunflower meal, rape meal and gluten.

Distiller’s grains have been traditionally included in dairy cow rations at a rate of 10% in order to prevent potential loss in milk yield and a reduction in milk fat.

The US trials involved feeding DDGS to dairy cows at a rate of 10%, 20% and 30%. The research, using a Keenan feeder, indicated 20% inclusion can be incorporated into the diet, and can increase the amount of energy corrected milk per kg of dry-matter consumed, by as much as 16%.

The US trial used two different types of diet feed mixers – a Keenan Mech-Fibre which incorporated the PACE system, and its various protocols for including feeds and recommended times for mixing, and a vertical tub mixer with its advanced weigh system and incorporated protocols.

At a 20% inclusion rate, the diet produced a feed cost saving of 56p per-cow per-day. With the addition of a potential increase in milk income, using a Keenan Mech-Fibre feeder, this could provide up to an additional 80p per cow per day. However, the study indicated there was not any benefit by including DDGS at a 30% inclusion rate.

According to University of Illinois researchers, the Mech-Fibre PACE system produced a better diet mix and delivered increasing nutritional benefits. US feed trials conducted on beef cattle demonstrated the importance of incorporating a properly mixed ration. One of the identified benefits included a shorter forage length delivered by the incorporate cutting mechanism of a Mech-Fibre feeder.

“Shorter length fibre, with a sharp edge to help scratch the sides of the rumen, is extremely important,” says Mr French. “The rumen function benefits due to the short-length cutting mechanism of a Mech-Fibre feeder.  A properly mixed diet, incorporating 20% biofuel co-products was fed to different groups of US beef cattle.

“Over a 24-hour period, on average, cattle fed through a Mech-Fibre wagon came forward to the feed fence on 11.5 occasions per cow; compared to 9.5 times for other groups. The Mech-Fibre group also ate feed for less time; on average 820 seconds per visit, compared to 910 second for other groups,” he says.

Undoubtedly, 2013 has been a breakthrough year in terms of recognising improvements in bovine feed efficiency.

In January, Keenan was awarded the prestigious Oxford Farming Conference and Royal Agricultural Society of England “Practise with Science Award” for its Mech-Fibre PACE system.

With 1.3billion mouths to feed in China, clearly, “every little helps.”


David Whetstone
Culture Editor
Graeme Whitfield
Business Editor
Mark Douglas
Newcastle United Editor
Stuart Rayner
Sports Writer