The company has only recently secured an equine feed distribution deal with Battles in the UK, and is planning large scale beef and dairy cattle trials in Brazil. But the scientific director at Ocean Harvest, Dr Stefan Kraan, told us it also has major ambitions for the US pig feed segment.
“We’ve just gone to market in the US on the back of research undertaken with Professor David Newman, who is a well-known swine specialist based at North Dakota State University.
“To enter the US, we needed a big trial. He ran those for us on weaner and fattening pigs. The two biggest findings were that the seaweed combinations used in the trials enabled ractopamine replacement with no impact on performance and anti-inflammatory markers dropped by around 50%.
“US retailers like Whole Foods don’t allow pigs fed on beta agonists in their supply chain but pigs fed on seaweed could be,” he said.
The Canadian-registered seaweed feed producer, which has R&D facilities in Galway in the west of Ireland, a sales presence in the US and production sites in Indonesia and Vietnam, has been supplying the animal feed sector globally for six years.
It uses about 20 different seaweed species for fish, cattle, or pig feed rations. The formulations are a mix of various species, and are based on the bioactives in the seaweed, continued Kraan. He said macroalgae has unique polysaccharides that exert a sub-level immune response in the animal.
The push on the swine feed side got underway about four years ago: “We started modestly with trials in Ireland in 2012 to determine dose response levels, to see how much would be needed to get growth improvements, and when would we begin to get a negative reaction.
“We found then that a 2% inclusion level in complete feed was the sweet spot. And, with that in our pocket, we commenced weaner and fattening pig trials in Canada in 2013, with much larger cohorts, in around 5,000 hogs," said Kraan.
He said that research indicated the seaweed mix would support antibiotic reduction, when the removal of drugs like amoxicillin and penicillin from the pigs’ drinking water showed no negative impact on performance.
The trials also showed a reduction in pig mortality of around 40%.
Kraan said a further trial, carried out with Ho Chi Minh University in Vietnam, but this time with only eight pigs per pen in triplicate, showed the seaweed feed allowed a reduction in antibiotic usage of 30 to 40% with a drop in mortality of 50% noted. While a trial with a Chinese feed mill, he said, showed similar results but at lower inclusion levels, up to 1% for fattening pigs and 1.5% for weaners.
More recent work has been conducted using sows in Ireland. “This time we approached it from a different angle. An Irish industry insider told us a seaweed feed mix would have to be priced at €7 or €8 per ton of feed to make it marketable in the Irish or European pig sector.
“So we went back to the drawing board, and devised a formulation that would give a prebiotic effect within that cost parameter.
“In a subsequent study then, we fed it to 40 sows at a 0.6% inclusion rate and saw benefits being passed on in the milk. Looking at piglet performance 30 days post weaning, we saw the FCR improved by 12%, weaning weight was 0.30 kg higher and there was a decline in mortality of around 20%,” said Kraan.
The next phase of the testing will be a challenge trial involving sows, to be carried out with North Dakota State University, using seaweed and a control, he added.
“Ocean Harvest is still growing and expanding. We are planning to increase the number of seaweed centers we have in Asia and will develop the cultivation site in Galway. And we have a network of connections to which to tap into for venture capital,” said Kraan.