Seaweed for livestock diets? Yes, it’s a thing!

Farming seaweed can not only help fix the climate but supply farmers with animal feed. No jokes. It is already being used for toothpaste and biofuel, anyway

Many researchers have found seaweed to be an ideals solution to not only address climate change concerns, but rising animal feed prices. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Many researchers have found seaweed to be an ideal solution to not only address climate change concerns, but rising animal feed prices. Photos: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

It’s probably something you’ve never considered, but seaweed can be a highly nutritious source for livestock feed – and it’s great for the environment too. Experts say it is a cool way to reduce the emission of cows’ planet-heating gases from their burps and farts.

Yes, we’re talking about the exact same seaweed normally washed to shore or found floating in the oceans. It adds to the protein and energy requirements of livestock, while the prebiotic compounds in seaweeds may help to enhance livestock production and health, according to ScienceDirect.

According to this research journal, seaweeds are macroalgae which come in many different shapes, sizes, colours and compositions. This include brown algae (Phaeophyceae), red algae (Rhodophyceae), and green algae (Chlorophyceae).

“Seaweeds have a long history of use as livestock feed,” writes Dr Harinder P.S. Makkar, an Italian researcher with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

“They have a highly variable composition, depending on the species, time of collection, habitat, and on external conditions such as water temperature, light intensity and nutrient concentration in water. They may contain non-protein nitrogen, resulting in an overestimation of their protein content, and nitrogen-to-protein conversion factors lower than 6.25, normally used for feed ingredients, have been advocated.”

Seaweed is not only useful to animals but also humans. No, really. It has been used to produce a variety of products such as moisturisers, toothpaste and biofuel.

Promar International reports that it can also be used for food, providing a good source of amino acids, antioxidants and essential fatty acids.

Seaweed is already being used to produce a variety of products such as moisturisers, toothpaste and even biofuel. Photo: Supplied/Food For Mzansi

Can seaweed be farmed?

Seaweed farming is growing in the aquaculture industry across the globe, especially in the United States and the United Kingdom. In Alaska, more than 50 000 kg of sugar, ribbon and bull kelp were produced in 2019 alone. That’s a whopping 200% increase since the state’s first commercial harvest in 2017.

According to NOAA Fisheries, seaweed offers an opportunity to diversify a farming operation or start a new business. Seaweeds use the entire water column. “This means farmers can grow seaweed using a process known as vertical, or 3D farming and reap large harvests from a small area,” states the report.

Seaweed can be grown in the ocean with no inputs and, if farmed the right way, it will have minimum effect on local ecology. It has shown to be the food of the future, helping farmers sustainably produce beef and dairy products.

Another lovely thing about seaweed is that farmers don’t have to compete for agricultural land as there is an abundance of the seafloor for farming.

Seaweed kills bacteria too

Furthermore, many livestock farmers are faced with the problem of animal infections and bacteria that sometimes threatens biosecurity. As a result, scientists have been looking for ways to prevent infections in livestock farming.

The Arabian Journal of Chemistry reports that brown seaweeds synthesise a unique class of compound called phlorotannin as they grow. These compounds can kill bacteria that emerge among farm animals. How effectively these compounds can kill bacteria depends on the species of seaweed being used, with different species producing more potent bactericides.

The most interesting function of seaweed is that it is environmentally friendly and that it is one of the solutions that can help in the fight against global warming. Professor Tim Flannery, an Australian researcher, found that seaweed draws in a lot of carbon dioxide. This helps de-acidify the seawater around them and release oxygen. Long story short: it improves the health of sea life nearby.

ALSO READ: 10 tips to cut down on animal feed costs

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