15 Factors to Consider When Evaluating and Using Alternative Ingredients

A list of considerations for feed formulators to evaluate alternative or novel feed ingredients when the availability or price of conventional ingredients prove constraining.

As feed represents approximately 70 percent of the cost of animal production, all opportunities to reduce feed cost should be examined and capitalized. At times, over the past years, we have observed dramatic increases and volatility in the price of key feed ingredients. Ten years ago, the cost of corn and soybean meal spiked dramatically and more recently we have observed similar conditions in the vitamin and mineral markets. 

It pays for feed formulators to be highly aware of the pricing and value of various feed ingredients within the marketplace. With this, we need to focus not only on the buying opportunities of the main ingredients of corn, wheat, and soybean meal but also consider any alternative ingredients available in the market.


Definition of an “alternative feed ingredient”

There is no exact definition of an alternative ingredient as what may be considered an alternative in one market or region may be considered a normal material to use in another. For the sake of this article, we will consider an alternative ingredient to be a raw material that is not used in feed formulas on a regular basis, has a somewhat variable nutrient composition, and for which the inclusion level is not clearly defined or unknown.

Factors to consider with alternative ingredients

The following identifies various factors to consider when deciding on the purchase and use of alternative feed ingredients.

1. Composition and Quality

For most raw materials the standard nutrient values are listed in ingredient composition tables or within the scientific literature. However, in many instances, the ingredients will be produced in small quantities at a local level and it is recommended to investigate individual suppliers and confirm the nutrient profiles and quality through laboratory analysis. A typical proximate analysis should include information regarding the moisture, protein, fat, fiber, and ash content of the material in question. An analysis of macro minerals and amino acid content can provide a further indication of product quality.

Tip #1: Confirm nutrient profiles and quality of alternative feed ingredients with lab analysis.

2. Variability

A considerable barrier to utilizing more alternative ingredients within feed formulations can be the nutrient variability. It is important to know the source and supplier in this instance along with having accurate nutrient profiles collected over a substantial period of time. With higher variability, lower inclusion levels should be considered as a safety measure.

Tip #2: Consider lower inclusion levels to guard against higher variability of alternative feed ingredients.

3. Nutrient Digestibility/Availability

Nutrient digestibility and availability refer to the extent to which the animal can digest and absorb the nutrients within the feedstuff. Many ingredients may have a considerable amount of nutrients, but they may not be available to the animal for growth or productive purposes. An example of this can be feather meal which has high level of protein but a low amount or imbalance of available amino acids.

Ingredients derived as by-products of processing industries that undergo a drying step need to be scrutinized. The use of digestibility studies, laboratory analysis, review of the scientific literature, and ingredient databases (such as those coordinated by amino acid suppliers) are useful sources of information. The use of feed additives such as enzymes and phytogenic compounds may also be considered as a means to improve digestibility of certain nutrients in alternative raw materials. 

Tip #3: Enzymes and phytogenic feed additives can improve the digestibility of certain nutrients in alternative raw materials.

Amino Acids Molecular Structures

4. Relative Value

The relative value of a feed ingredient may be used to compare the nutrient value of a feedstuff in comparison to the standard energy, protein, lysine, or phosphorus value in a market. In many instances, corn and soybean meal are the gold standard—or benchmark against which all other ingredients are compared. The relative value does not consider the inclusion levels. Rather, it is simply the cost per unit of nutrient at a particular point in time.

Tip #4: Use Relative Value as initial indicator of raw material purchase.

5. Suitability or Form of Material

In some cases ingredients or feedstuffs may be available in the market, but the form of the material may limit the ability to transport, store, or process the material. This may include by-products that are in liquid state or ingredients that are not thoroughly dried.

Feeding systems may need to be re-designed or altered to allow for effective use of such ingredients. High amounts of moisture can also dilute nutrient values of feed and should be taken into account within the feed formulation.

Tip #5: Check that your feeding system or manufacturing facility is compatible with moist or liquid alternative feed ingredients. 

6. Anti-Nutritional Factors

Certain naturally inherent components that develop within certain raw materials may interfere with the digestion, metabolism, or health of animals. Examples may include: mycotoxins, trypsin inhibitors, tannins, lectins, and glucosinolates.

If possible, these anti-nutritional factors should be determined through analysis and decisions to use or the amounts to include adjusted accordingly. In some instances, certain feed additives such as mycotoxin deactivators, can be considered for use to protect animals against the deleterious effects of such components.

Tip #6: Test alternative raw materials for mycotoxin contamination, and use a mycotoxin deactivator to protect your animals from mycotoxins’ negative effects. 

7. Palatability

This relates to the ability of the animal to readily consume the material of consideration. Certain ingredients may have bitter components (for example, rapeseed meal) or have off-flavours or aromas thereby limiting the intake when included in diets. Phytogenic feed additives (PFAs) improve the palatability of feeds and may mask unappetizing aromas.

Tip #7: Use of phytogenic feed additives can improve palatability and support feed intake.

8. Free of Hazards

Depending upon the source of the feedstuff or type of processing some alternative ingredients can contain foreign materials that may be considered dangerous to animal consumption. For example, in some cases, bakery waste may contain plastic or other packaging material that can be present in the product. Other hazards to consider may be heavy metals or chemical contamination that may occur in ingredients such as minerals.

Tip #8: Check alternative feed ingredients for physical hazards, heavy metals and chemicals.

9. Handling and Storage

The raw material of consideration needs to flow or move within the feed milling process to be a cost effective and practical ingredient for utilization within formulations. Bin space, warehousing, and how product can be stored needs to be considered prior to the purchase of a new ingredient.

Tip #9: Know how and where to store alternative feed materials before purchase.

10. Availabiltiy and Consistency of Supply

An adequate supply of the material under consideration must exist prior to evaluating the cost and nutritional value. It should be determined as to the type of animals to be fed, diets, inclusion levels, and feed tonnage produced in order to calculate the potential volumes required over a period of time.

Tip #10: Work with suppliers on securing an adequate amount of ingredient to make the purchasing decision timely and cost effective.

11. Stability

The ability of ingredients to be stored and maintain their quality is of considerable importance. For example, products that are high in moisture (15-25%) are prone to spoilage, fermentation, mold development, and reduced nutrient quality over time.

Tip #11: Ensure products are properly preserved and will not spoil over storage period.

12. Inclusion Rates

The amount of ingredient to include within a feed formula is highly open to interpretation and the conditions involved. Experience is the greatest asset in setting limits of alternative ingredients and every nutritionist or company may have a unique set of methods or philosophies in how to incorporate unusual raw materials.

Industry guidelines, publications, or scientific literature may assist to develop base levels of inclusions but these should be challenged to gain greatest cost saving potential. Research on alternative ingredient inclusion levels should be an important focus of any integrator or feed company’s research and development program.

Tip #12: Ask questions, conduct research, and investigate the proper inclusion rates of alternative feed ingredients.

13. Impact on Pellet Quality and Final Feed

Factors such as the moisture level and particle size of various ingredients can affect the feed manufacturing process. The feedstuffs under consideration should have limited impact on pellet quality and not affect the overall performance of the feed to be an effective alternative ingredient.

Tip #13: An effective alternative feed ingredient does not significantly alter pellet quality or overall feed performance.

14. Effect on Meat, Egg, or Milk Quality

As in above scenario, the feedstuff should not impart any negative effects to the final food products being produced. For example, high amounts of fishmeal are known to cause off flavours to milk, egg, and meat products and thereby need to be limited in feed formulas.

Tip #14: Limit potentially problematic raw materials to low inclusion levels or only allow certain ingredients to specific production stages such to not impact final meat, egg, or milk quality.

15. Cost

The amount of potential feed cost savings tends to be the biggest factor in determining use of alternative based ingredients. Through proper attention to the above details, accurate nutrient characterization and use of feed formulation software the most cost efficient feed price and formulations can be developed.

If animal performance is not compromised and a more economical formula is produced, this should lead to reduced costs of production. As outlined, other cost factors to consider outside of ingredient price may be the need for special storage, processing, or transport.

Tip #15: An effective alternative feed ingredient ultimately delivers cost savings to your operation.


Alternative feed ingredients should always be considered in feed formulations. Overall, when such materials can be characterized correctly and incorporated to animal diets with no performance impairment, they can be an important method or way to reduce feed and production costs. There are multiple factors to evaluate in using alternative ingredients. When used properly, the financial benefits of alternative feed ingredients can be considerable to animal feeding operations.

Published on

23 July 2019


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