Algae co-products providing protein source in Texas A&M research

[8th, May 2014] While there may be little use for most of the algae growing in Midwestern farm ponds, researchers at Texas A&M University are finding algae co-products can be used in cattle rations. Since algae is 40 percent oil, researchers were trying to determine what could be done with the remaining 60 percent, says Tryon Wickersham, an animal scientist at Texas A&M…

Wickersham and his colleagues worked on the project in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense and Department of Energy.

“They have a strong interest in using it for biodiesel and jet fuel, and they wanted to test and see if we could use the remaining powder for cattle,” Wickersham says.

The algae used are grown in saltwater ponds in Hawaii and Pecos, Texas. Eventually, the algae is extracted from the water by a company in Canada and then shipped to Texas.

Wickersham says collecting the microscopic algae from the water is a challenge since the algae is difficult to separate.

“We get a dried product, which is much like a powder,” he says.

Since crude protein levels in the algae can be as high as 30 percent, he says the co-product was used to supplement grazing cattle.

“It did what we expected it to do,” Wickersham says.

“Now, we are doing a study with finishing rations to see how feedlot cattle perform. We are looking at the meat at the moment to see if it had any impact on carcasses.”

The algae co-product is used in place of protein sources, such as distillers grains, he says.

“It tends to smell like fish food, but the cattle will eat it,” Wickersham says.

“When we fed it to grazing cattle, they did drink more water because of the high-salt content. The algae are not as concentrated in the feedlot supplement, so water intake may not increase as much.”

He adds the algae co-product also could be used in the aquaculture industry as a substitute for more-expensive protein sources.

Wickersham says the financial side of algae production also is being researched. He says algae co-products should be cheaper than corn co-products.

“It’s not as good of a protein source as distillers, so we anticipate it will sell for less than distillers or something of that nature,” Wickersham adds.

But, he says, it could be an option for producers looking to stretch their feed dollar.

“Grazing cattle performed very well when we used the algae as a supplement, and the feedlot cattle appear to be doing well also. We think this is very promising and could be a really nice option for the industry.”

Jeff DeYoung, Iowa Farmer Today

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