Being highly digestible with low anti-nutritive factors, it is not surprising that corn is known as the golden feed in the animal industry. However, since the new era of the corn-ethanol industry for biofuel production and increasing human population, divergence of corn to these users has been proliferating. The fear of animal nutritionists that corn might be unavailable for livestock is now ever-present. In addition, prices of corn have flared up and profitability of the livestock industry is seriously challenged. Other alternatives such as rye and barley were unsuccessful to replace corn based on their high anti-nutritive factors which decrease the digestibility of these grains and solicit needs for feed enzymes – additional costs to livestock industry. Till now, no single grain has been able to beat corn as a feed and win the competition.
Research has been carried out on developing a new variety of grain known as the Canadian Hybrid Pearl Millet. Pearl Millet is native to the Western Edges of Sahara desserts and has interesting characteristics such as resistance to drought and frost and ability to thrive in infertile soils. The Canadian version of Pearl Millet has been developed by the Agricultural Environmental Renewal Canada Inc (AERC) which fully adapts to Canada’s microclimates. However, though agronomically pearl millet seemed to be an ideal grain and nutritionally it has higher protein, amino acids and fats as compared to corn, its application in the livestock industry remained to be researched.
Among the very few research universities, our MacDonald Campus (McGill University) has been actively carrying research on Pearl Millet in chicken and also dairy animals. Previous studies from our campus have shown that Canadian Hybrid Pearl Millet can partially replace corn in laying hens and produce omega – 3 –eggs. The importance of omega-3 is highly acclaimed with benefits in decreasing coronary heart disease, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.
Excitingly, my Masters’ research project involved using pearl millet as a replacement for corn in meat producing chicken. My enthusiasm was enhanced when I came to know that our Animal Science department will be the first ever to conduct research with Canadian Hybrid Pearl Millet in meat producing chickens. Hence, at our MacDonald farm, we raised chickens and measured various parameters: production, digestibility, bacterial populations and intestinal morphology.
My biggest fear was that the anti-nutritive factors of pearl millet might be higher than that of corn and hence pearl millet could no longer be considered as an alternative for meat producing chicken. Surprisingly, the effects of anti-nutritive factors of pearl millet and corn were similar based on the fact that we found no difference in digestibility of protein, dry matter and amino acids. We concluded that the Canadian hybrid pearl millet is better than corn with higher body weight (more meat) and better feed conversion ratio. Canadian Hybrid pearl millet’s chickens maintained a better intestinal health as measured by higher concentration of beneficial bacteria and higher villi height (required for nutrients absorption) as compared to corn.
Our Canadian Hybrid Pearl Millet has won this round against corn. Sincerely, I believe that the Canadian Hybrid Pearl Millet will be the new golden standard in the livestock industry and its nutritive value and applications remain to be exploited. However, now arising is a new question – since it is a new variety of grain, will farmers accept to grow Pearl Millet rather than corn?
Neerusha Gokool Baurhoo