Hidden costs of nutrition

06-07-2009 | |

Not all that shines is gold, they say, and this could not be more true when it comes to nutrition. Especially, when it comes to purchasing ingredients that at first glance appear to be cheaper. Sometimes, hidden costs may actually increase cost beyond the initial purchase price. Let me explain with a recent example.

One of my customers recently informed me that his growing-finishing pigs no longer performed as they used to when we first started working together. Now, we both knew well that the formulas were still the same, but the veterinarians insisted the feed was wrong, and we listened!

First visit was directly to the farms, a complex of facilities with rather diverse conditions but with same genetics everywhere. Indeed, nothing appeared different since my last visit several months ago and the pigs, to the veterinarians’ pride, appeared healthy albeit they were no longer growing as fast as before, and this was rather evident. So, nothing wrong with the pigs!

Next stop was at the feed mill, an in-house modern facility. A long talk with the manager revealed no changes in machinery, procedures, or labour that could signal a change in feed quality. A physical check up of recent and old samples brought up nothing as particle size, colour, and density were virtually identical. Chemical lab tests were all negative, with no changes in protein, ash, fibre, salt, and salmonella…So, the feed was made properly!

Now, it was time to check the ingredients, so the purchasing department was called in to ‘testify’…And, here there was the first glimpse of hope in solving this mystery. Since my last visit, they had found bargain ship-loads of wheat from a foreign source and they had stocked up for many months ahead. Up to that time, they had been using a local source for many years. All other ingredients were sourced from the same suppliers as always!

Nothing wrong with taking advantage of a bargain, but upon closer inspection the ‘new’ wheat looked shrivelled and dried up. So, two things were suggested to begin with. First, samples were sent in for an urgent mycotoxin profile. In the mean time, we added a suitable wheat-specific enzyme and a broad-spectrum anti-mycotoxin agent. We even managed to get a sample submitted for a pentosan profile (pentosans are the major anti-nutritional factor in wheat) thanks to the courtesy of the enzyme supplier.

Indeed, by the time test results came in, pigs had already started doing better but performance was not up to previous levels. Analysis showed that the wheat was actually very high in pentosans and as such, the inclusion of the enzyme was to the right direction. We only had to increase the dosage, which we did!

Now, what the mycotoxin profile revealed was that our wheat was heavily contaminated with a very specific mycotoxin, against which the broad-spectrum anti-mycotoxin binder was only mildly effective. Promptly, we switched to a proper product and within days pigs started eating better, even looking better, and it was clearly noticed by all farm hands. The next batch finished even faster than before and everything soon returned to normal.

Now, this would have been another (boring) routine nutritional consulting business had the cost of the enzyme plus the anti-mycotoxin agent been lower than the savings achieved by the ‘bargain’ wheat. In contrast, the cost per tonne of feed was actually higher than before and noticeably so, making it a quite painful story to tell. In this regard, the whole enterprise was rather a loss proving once more that cheap to buy is not always cheaper to use.

Needless to say, the loss of performance and associated profit was an extra negative ‘bonus’, for which we will say nothing more!

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