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A Perspective on Algae as Feed for Cows, Sheep, and Goats

July 22, 2011, by Jonathan Williams

Co-products like animal feeds for cattle can be highly beneficial to the economic feasibility of the algae industry in its early stages and beyond. That was part of the message Dr. Shanna Ivey from New Mexico State University shared with the crowd at the 1st International Conference on Algal Biomass, Biofuels, and Bioproducts, this week in St. Louis.

She framed her presentation by first pointing to the facts that there are over 70 million ruminants (cows, sheep, and goats) in the United States alone, and the market for feeding them is in the millions of tons. Both of these facts support using some of the roughly 190 million tons of lipid extracted algae (algal biomass that has had the oil portion removed) as feed, an estimation that the Department of Energy believes will be produced in the coming years.

Co-production is nothing new in the feed industry and Ivey pointed out that many feeds currently are the result of co-products. For example, distiller grains that are the leftovers from ethanol production are currently being used as a feed for many livestock.

Dr. Ivey feels that one of the main issues about using lipid-extracted algae as feedstock will be consistency, something that will rely on the algal strain, extraction method, and growth conditions. Livestock owners want consistency in product nutrients as well as product availability. Without a way to guarantee those, Ivey sees problems with large-scale adoption of algae as a feed source.

Additionally, any algae based feed will have to beneficially interact with the ruminants’ large microbial population in their digestive system. She pointed out that luckily, these microbes are typically very resilient and can handle a large variety of feed sources. Further good news is that early tests by Ivey’s lab show that lipid extracted algae interacts with a ruminant’s microbial dependent digestive system very much the same as traditional soybean meal feedstock.

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