Interview: Technical services’ potential to reduce variability in feed formulation

Published Monday, 20th June 2016
Interview  technical services potential to reduce variability in feed formulation

AB Vista’s suite of technical services – feed quality, lab and engineering services – is designed to help our customers identify opportunities for improving efficiency across the entire feed production process. Here Dr Sophie Parker-Norman, Global Technical Manager, and Tess Burkin, Marketing Development Manager, discuss the potential of technical services for reducing variability in animal feed formulation. 

Why are technical services becoming increasingly more important in the feed business?

[Sophie] With animal production margins under increasing pressure and feed making up over 70% of the variable cost in animal production, attention is continually focused on feed formulation accuracy. Coordinating nutrient supply to animal needs is key to ensuring profitability and sustainable production. AB Vista is dedicated to helping our customers maximise the accuracy and quality of their feed, and in supporting their quality control systems in both raw materials and feeds. This will help ensure consistent, sustainable production, aligning meat, egg and milk production with processing and retail demands.

Can you give me an overview of the technical services offering at AB Vista? Can you walk us through some of the recent milestones you have experienced?

[Tess] AB Vista’s laboratory service, from our production plant in Finland, was coordinated with our first feed enzyme sales, in 2006, providing enzyme assays that directly measure the enzyme presence and activity in feed. Enzyme-linked immunesorbent assays (ELISA) were developed specifically for our Quantum Blue phytase and Econase XT xylanase a few years later. The service moved into its own laboratory, in the UK in April 2011, and has expanded as global demand for enzyme analysis has increased, opening a laboratory in North America in January 2014. The laboratory service recently reaches its 100,000th sample since 2011, and continues to invest heavily in technology to support throughput.

AB Vista’s Feed Quality Service was first made available as an on-line service in 2010, and has been subject to significant advancement in recent years as the breadth of raw materials analysed has been expanded and the depth of parameters reported has also increased. The service now offers analysis of major raw materials such as maize, wheat, sorghum, barley soyabean meal and canola meal. The service provides information on energy, proximate composition and reactive lysine, amongst others. Unique ruminant specific parameters for cereals, including an acidosis index, are also offered.

What limitations are there on the geographical availability of these services, if any? For example, do they require the physical presence of an AB representative or proximity to a laboratory?

[Tess] The Feed Quality Service is a web-enabled NIR analysis based on recent software developments in which spectra are downloaded to a master machine containing appropriate calibrations that are stored centrally and updated regularly. This service is accessible online 24/7, so as long as there is a wifi connection, there are no geographical limitations. AB Vista’s laboratory network currently has US and UK hubs as well as 3rd party laboratories in other regions in which samples from across the globe can be analysed. There are plans to expand the laboratory network further to support ongoing international sales growth in the coming years.

In your laboratory services portfolio, AB Vista offers QuantiPlate and QuickStix, both of which are tests for your feed additives Quantum Blue and Econase XT. What is the difference between the two?

[Sophie] QuantiPlate and QuikStix are both based on our enzyme linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) technology, developed in co-operation with our partner, Envirologix. Both are specific for the active enzyme protein in Quantum Blue phytase or Econase XT xylanase. These are based on the principles of capturing and immobilizing the target protein by using a specific antibody that is designed to match part of the protein which is in, or close to, the intact active site, thus only identifying active enzyme molecules.

QuantiStix are designed to confirm the presence of these enzymes in feeds, with an answer within a few minutes, and can be used, for example, in the feed mill.

QuantiPlates are designed to quantitatively analyse Quantum Blue phytase and Econase XT xylanase activity in feeds, and give an accurate answer within 3 hours without the need for complex laboratory equipment. 


In terms of your feed quality service, much has been made of advances in NIR-enabled feedstuff evaluation. Can you give an overview of the most recent developments in this domain and how these changes are reflected in the offerings at AB Vista?

[Tess] Having pioneered on-line NIR services in the feed industry, AB Vista continue to develop both hardware and software that will extend and enhance user experience and flexibility. Initially we offered information on proximate composition, phytate-P and energy. However, in co-operation with our research partners, we have recently developed our calibrations to include unique parameters such as reactive lysine for both soyabean and canola meal, cereal fibre components (NSP) and ruminant acidosis index for cereals. This combination allows feed manufacturers to optimize raw material purchase and target feed formulations to meet animal requirements.

 What are some of the constraints on the usefulness of NIR analysis results? How can the industry get more value out of NIR analysis?

[Sophie] The great advantage of NIR is that it can quickly and cheaply supply large amounts of analytical data; challenges include storing and interpreting large datasets, and can require a new type of infrastructure and expertise. NIR analysis often involves utilizing average values; however averages tell us little about the variation and trends in raw materials seen within regions, which can have potentially greater impact.

Getting the most from NIR starts with an appreciation of sample variability and the need for regular sampling. This presents a practical challenge in the feed mill; however NIR offers benefits to production managers as well as the obvious benefits to the nutritionist. The feed milling process is largely driven by moisture content, which can be determined by NIR. With the introduction of hand held NIR devices to the market that are able to accurately predict proximates as well as moisture, both the feed mill manager and the nutritionist have a lot to gain from NIR.

What does the future look like for AB Vista’s services offering?

[Sophie] AB Vista will to continue to develop segment leading technical services; the industry can expect to see further new and unique services focused on adding value to our customer’s businesses.

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