New research in sorghum as an ingredient in poultry feedstuffs could help the grain become more viable in this market.
Two Clemson University researchers have set out to correct false, outdated claims about sorghum, bringing it back into the spotlight as a viable feedstuff in poultry production.
Working with the United Sorghum Checkoff Program to conduct research, the duo is using grain sorghum and shedding light on why it provides advantages to poultry producers from both nutritional and economic standpoints.
Mireille Arguelles-Ramos, Ph.D., an assistant professor of poultry nutrition at Clemson University and principal investigator of the checkoff-funded project, was hired to strengthen the poultry nutrition program at Clemson University. Conducting the research with Arguelles-Ramos is Alissa Moritz, a doctoral student in poultry nutrition at Clemson.
The main objectives of the project are to characterize the complete nutritional profile of modern sorghum varieties, evaluate its impact and performance on intestinal health and determine optimal inclusion levels for poultry feed for Japanese quail, northern bobwhite quail and broiler chickens.
To achieve their objectives, Moritz and Arguelles-Ramos first selected modern varieties of grain sorghum to test. They chose tan and/or white, red and/or bronze and US No. 2 yellow sorghum.
“We mainly want to evaluate the pros and cons of each variety,” Moritz said. “We want to find the variety that performs more closely to how corn performs.”
Some prior research determined the use of sorghum as a feedstuff for broiler birds resulted in a slower growth rate and a higher frequency of intestinal disease from high tannin sorghum.
“What people don’t realize is that the majority of the sorghum grown in the United States now is tannin-free or very low tannin,” Arguelles-Ramos said. “We want to show poultry nutritionists that it’s safe to use modern varieties of grain sorghum.”
New research is changing this common misconception, Arguelles-Ramos said.
Moritz and Arguelles-Ramos are working to find the accurate metabolizable energy value, the energy available for growth and reproduction, for each sorghum variety and the amino acid digestibility. They are also evaluating if there are any particular compounds focused on sorghum’s antioxidant capacity and if that has any influence on minimizing common intestinal diseases such as coccidiosis and necrotic enteritis.
“Ultimately, we are looking at all nutritional benefits of sorghum and evaluating growth performance parameters to determine if sorghum can completely replace corn in the poultry industry,” Moritz said.
To discuss the idea of completely substituting sorghum for corn, Moritz and Arguelles-Ramos had to evaluate the economic impact.
Moritz said while corn is an excellent feedstuff for poultry production, it is in competition for human consumption, which tends to drive up the cost of using corn in animal feeds.
“If we can alleviate some of the pressure that’s on corn production,” Moritz said, “then we can use the sorghum alternative to hopefully balance cost fluctuation.”
“It is also important to not put all your eggs in one basket,” Arguelles-Ramos added, referring to corn.
While using sorghum as a corn alternative comes with many economic benefits, it can also be a challenge when analyzing availability and transportation of grain sorghum in the Southeast. Because sorghum is primarily grown within the Sorghum Belt, stretching from South Dakota to southern Texas, there is a logistical disconnect between where sorghum is grown and where the majority of poultry production is found—a hurdle the Sorghum Checkoff is working to eliminate, exposing sorghum’s benefits and creating market demand in the southeast region.
Moritz and Arguelles-Ramos said they are optimistic about the results of their trial. While a few studies had to be postponed due to COVID-19, they were able to pick up where they left off this fall and are hoping to complete their research by December.
Moritz is working on an ongoing gut-related health trial for her personal research, but they anticipate having a final report for the Sorghum Checkoff by Spring 2021.
“I think at the end of the day, education is key, gathering information is key and sharing data is key,” Arguelles-Ramos said. “Nutritionists have a big responsibility, but I think if we can validate our scientific data, they will take a chance on sorghum.”
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2020 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine the Sorghum Markets department.