Wheat is a staple cereal crop in most of the India and particularly in northern India. In 2018-19 India produces around 100 million tons wheat which is highest ever produced in a country. It is a rabi season crop i.e. it occurs in winter season.
In recent times the government had increased the minimum support price (MSP) of wheat to Rs 1,840 per quintal from Rs 1,735 per quintal, as part of its decision to fix the support price at least 1.5 times of the production cost.
The Food Corporation of India (FCI), the nodal agency for procurement and distribution of food grains, and state agencies buy wheat from farmers at MSP and the grain is distributed at Rs 2 per kg to over 80 crore people under the National Food Security Act.
Wheat could get entry in poultry feed in India as maize prices soars up due to various reasons. Although in some European countries poultry feed is totally wheat based but in India wheat is not common in poultry feed.
As maize prices reached up to Rs. 2100/- per Q it becomes necessary to look at alternatives for maize. Other grains like sorghum, bajra and barley could also be a contestant in this competition against maize but abundance and cost effectiveness of wheat gives it a major advantage.
Apart from this there is huge compendium of technical information available regarding usage of wheat because it is basic grain used in poultry feed in some parts of Europe.
But in spite of all advantages there are few technical snags which make it hard nut to crack by poultry nutritionists. Here we discuss some points regarding its properties which are difficult to handle and ignorance of which may cause imbalances in poultry feed and ultimately leads to losses.
Maize is very standard cereal for poultry feed due to high energy value and relatively stable nutrient profile like 9% protein and 3300kcal energy but in case of wheat these values are quite variable and variation is more true for protein. It needs extra care when wheat inclusion is beyond 30% of total feed.
NSPs: Wheat has particular type of non starch polysaccharides (NSPs) called pentosans. These pentosans are made of arabinans and xylans which have peculiar property of water absorption. They can absorb water up to 10 times of its weight. Due to this wheat consumption causes increased gut viscosity. On an average wheat contains 5% NSPs and if we are using 30% wheat in formulation than it can hold upto 15% water in gut. This has quite negative impact on digestion and litter quality. However, nowadays special NSPases are available which can digest pentosans and reduces their negative impact but finding such product which actually works is quite difficult task.
Variable Nutrient Profile: As said before that protein content of wheat is highly variable. Depending upon gluten (wheat protein) quantity wheat may be hard wheat in which gluten is high or soft wheat in which gluten is low. On an average wheat contains more protein than maize (corn). In practice actual value of protein can be 100% different than those given in books. Cultivation practices and type of wheat variety has profound effect on protein percentage. Therefore sometimes it become essential to analyze each batch before use. It is also beneficial to segregate incoming batches of wheat into high protein and low protein batch and use them accordingly to balance formulations.
Biotin Deficient: Wheat has almost nil bioavailable biotin as compared to maize in which bioavailability is 75%. Biotin is a vitamin which act as coenzyme in various metabolic reactions. It is essential for protein and energy metabolism. It is involved in conversion of carbohydrate to protein and vice versa, as well as conversion of protein and carbohydrate to fat. Specific biotin-dependent reactions in carbohydrate metabolism are:
- Carboxylation of pyruvic acid to oxaloacetic acid.
- Conversion of malic acid to pyruvic acid.
- Interconversion of succinic acid and propionic acid.
- Conversion of oxalosuccinic acid to alpha-ketoglutaric acid.
- In protein metabolism, biotin enzymes are important in protein synthesis, amino acid deamination, purine synthesis and nucleic acid metabolism.
Fungus, choline chloride, trace minerals, and feed rancidity destroy biotin. Biotin deficiency results in a number of clinical symptoms with the most obvious being leg disorders (perosis or partial paralysis). More practically, biotin deficiency reduces lesion healing leading to reduced footpad heath, especially in wet litter conditions. In maize based rations 0.1g/t of feed biotin is usually recommended while in case of wheat based rations nearly 3 times biotin is required.
Sticky Nature: Wheat gluten is sticky and pasty in nature. Its inclusion reduces free flowabilty of feed which interferes with proper mixing. Fine grinding of wheat has negative effects in broilers as it cause beak impaction. So it is preferable to use whole wheat or partially grinded wheat in feed.
Mycotoxins Issue: Mycotoxins profile of wheat is quite different from maize and if you are replacing maize with unknown source of wheat than it always requires second thought. Wheat is affected by similar molds but at a different way compared to corn. Thus, the presence and levels of most known mycotoxins might be different in wheat than in corn. On a global level, Mycotoxin Levels in wheat and wheat‐based products were set for DON and OTA by the Codex Alimentarius Commission. So before using mycotoxin binders one should critically review the spectrum and dose of particular binding product.
Necrotic Enteritis: It is often says that wheat based diets may causes necrotic enteritis. But this assertion needs to be rectified in the light of scientific research. Necrotic enteritis is caused by Clostridium perfringens which is an obligatory anearobe and proliferate in intestine when such conditions are provided. Finely grinded wheat increases intestinal viscosity which hamper digestion and also reduces feed passage. When undigested part of feed reaches to lower gut than fermenting and denitrifying bacteria produces methane and ammonia which make environment highly anaerobic, this opportunity is taken well by Clostridium and it proliferates vigorously and also comes in small intestine and causes enteritis. However, research shows that coarse grinding and whole wheat feeding results in significant reductions in incidence of necrotic enteritis. The problem increases when we removed growth-promoting antibiotics from broiler feeds. Nevertheless, necrotic enteritis is a multi-factorial problem, only partially addressed through nutritional interventions.
Pellet Quality: Using wheat increases pellet durability (and consequently crumble size) and reducing the amount of fines is a desirable trait for broiler feeds, but extra-hard pellets will take more energy to crumble at the feed mill.
In Brief: Wheat can become excellent replacement of maize if above points are kept in mind while formulating feed for poultry and especially for broilers. This knowledge has more relevance in present times when maize is significantly costlier than other cereals.
Nutrient Profile of Wheat for Reference