Algae ‘Fodder Ponds’ Tested for Australia’s Beef Industry
September 3, 2012
near term vision is being discussed at Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA) where cattle properties manufacture their own source of protein using ponds to grow algae as a livestock feed. MLA’s strategic science manager, Dr. Terry Longhurst, said Australia’s red meat industry has an innovative future thanks to its long-term and balanced investment in R&D to build productivity and profitability. He said MLA engaged with producers and processors when identifying the ‘big challenges’ to be overcome to continue to move the industry forward, resulting in MLA’s five-year research strategies for beef, animal welfare, animal health and biosecurity.
Currently MLA invests about $3.6 million annually in ‘strategic’ science, which includes the algae pond work. The University of Queensland and James Cook University are investigating how to develop and harvest on-farm algal ponds as a source of high-value protein and energy supplements.
The work is based on the premise that nutritional limitations of northern Australia’s pastures can be partly overcome by critically-timed additional protein. The high-protein algae would provide a locally produced, low-cost source of protein. A one ha pilot-scale algal pond has been established at James Cook University in Townsville, for the purposes of looking at growth responses to feeding algae to cattle.
“It actually measures up quite well in terms of feed value against widely-used feed commodities like cottonseed meal or copra meal,” University of Queensland nutritionist Dr. McLennan said. “At first cattle wouldn’t go near it, but once they got used to algae as a feed source, they would gallop over whenever there was a feed delivery happening.”
Tests have been run using hundreds of different algae species, each with different protein and lipid (energy) configurations. The species fed in early trials was spirulina. At the moment cost of production was the main issue, Dr. McLennan said.
According to Dr. McLennan, it might be possible to produce 250kg of edible algae per hectare of pond, on a dry matter basis. Given that result, a 2.5 ha pond could potentially provide the daily nutrient equivalent to a typical protein meal requirement needed to feed 1000 weaners on a large northern grazing enterprise. That forecast was based on 0.5pc of bodyweight fed per day, as a replacement for cottonseed meal, copra meal or equivalent.
“Protein is going to be a limiting factor in the future,” Dr. McLennan said. “So perhaps one day, growing algae on-farm, using ponds, might be part of the solution.”