A research study shows that cattle responded favorably to a diet including the non-oil microalgal fraction – the dry cell wall that might otherwise be discarded as waste.

A research study shows that cattle responded favorably to a diet including the non-oil microalgal fraction – the dry cell wall that might otherwise be discarded as waste.

Livestock scientists see microalgae’s potential as a sustainable, high-energy feedstuff as well as a protein supplement. Among those scientists are Dr. Megan Van Emon, Assistant Professor at Montana State University, Dr. Daniel Loy, Professor of Animal Science at Iowa State University and Dr. Stephanie Hansen, Assistant Professor at Iowa State University. Their paper, “Determining the preference, in vitro digestibility, in situ disappearance, and grower period performance of steers fed a novel algae meal derived from heterotrophic microalgae,” is featured in June’s issue of the Journal of Animal Science.

In the study Solazyme approached Dr. Stephanie Hansen and her colleagues to assess the value of the non-lipid algal fraction, the dry cell wall that would otherwise be burned as waste. “We looked at the nutrient analysis of a blend of de-oiled algae and soyhulls,” said Dr. Hansen. “Everyone thought that this could be a great ruminant feedstuff.”

While previous researchers have studied pure algae supplements as sources of protein or docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), the current study is the first to feed a unique algae meal blend (ALG). The feedstuff (57% microalgae) has slightly more fat content than corn, the same amount of protein, and does not contain DHA.

A preliminary experiment tested the dry matter (DM) digestibility of ALG compared with hay and soyhulls. Three more experiments took place (1) to determine if cattle would readily consume algae meal, (2) to determine the influence of DM disappearance of ALG and other feedstuffs and (3) to determine growth and dry matter intake (DMI) of ALG-fed grower calves.

Four diets were fed to feedlot steers: a cracked corn control diet, and diets containing 15%, 30% and 45% algae meal (CON, ALG15, ALG30 and ALG45, respectively). The first two experiments involved three ruminally cannulated steers, and the third experiment involved 48 grower steers. In the grower study algae meal replaced wet corn gluten feed in the diet.

The trials yielded new information, notably:

  • Cattle readily consumed algae meal at all concentrations without sorting.
  • ADG increased as ALG increased in the diet.
  • DMI increased linearly as ALG concentrations increased in the diet.
  • Finally, midpoint and final birth weight of steers were not affected by ALG.

Dr. Hansen said this initial collection of data translates to a promising future for algae meal. “We are currently working on FDA approval for the product. Hopefully by 2016, cattlemen will be able to start incorporating it into rations, especially if they can find it at the right price.”

The research team is working together with Solazyme to determine the financial value of algae meal. Dr. Hansen expects the high-energy feedstuff to be priced competitively with corn. “The sustainability of algae production is pretty promising,” Hansen said. “As we move into the next generation of cattle feeding and feedstuffs, it will be interesting to see where present and future versions of algae meal place themselves in the market.”