What if you had to eat the fibrous coconut shell along with the delicious coconut meat and milk? Talk about digestive distress!

That’s what it is like when a newly-weaned baby pig consumes the fiber portion of soybean meal — “gas, flatulence and overall discomfort,” says Sam Baidoo, University of Minnesota swine scientist.

Pigs and other animals with a singlechambered stomach can’t break down complex-sugar molecules called oligosaccharides (oh•LIG•oh•SACK•uh•rides) in soybean hulls and fiber. In baby pigs’ digestive systems, oligosaccharides interfere with nutrient absorption, slowing weight gain and causing bloating and diarrhea.

Now, Baidoo is testing soybean meal that has been specially processed to remove about 80 percent of oligosaccharides. Removing the offending sugars leaves a nutrient-dense soybean meal that is easier for baby pigs to digest and less expensive than other protein sources.

AURI and the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council are sponsoring the nursery-pig feeding trials at the University of Minnesota’s research center in Waseca.

The two organizations are also funding “low- O” soybean meal feeding trials in poultry. Oligosaccharides in turkey and chicken rations increase the amount of moisture in the manure, degrading litter quality and raising waste management costs. The poultry research is led by U of M animal scientist Sally Noll.

Using low-O soymeal in pig and poultry diets could improve feed efficiency and cut livestock production costs, says Dennis Timmerman, AURI project director. Low-O meal could also expand soybean meal consumption in Minnesota, the third-largest soybean-producing state.

Severe financial stress in the livestock sector adds urgency to this research effort, says Mike Youngerberg, Minnesota Soybean Growers Association field services director. After many months of thin or negative profit margins, “the swine and poultry industries are looking for any feed efficiencies they can find.”

A cheaper protein source

Removing most of the soybean fiber yields a higher-protein soybean meal — a big advantage for hog and poultry feeders. Low-O meal is about 57 percent protein, Baidoo says, compared to 44 percent protein in conventional soybean meal, or 49 percent in de-hulled soybean meal. And without thefiber, soybean amino acids — the building blocks of protein — are easier for monogastric animals to absorb, Baidoo adds.

Nursery pigs, which grow from about 14 pounds at weaning to about 40 pounds in 28 days, need a very high-protein diet. That’s spendy.

Starter feed usually contains expensive, high-quality proteins such as whey and fishmeal, which supplement the amino acids in soymeal. These feed ingredients may be two or three times the price of soymeal, Timmerman says. The hope is that low-O soymeal could perform comparably at a fraction of the cost, he says.

Baidoo is running trials to compare growth rates, feed conversion and health of pigs fed a conventional starter diet versus several different low-O diets. Sally Noll is doing the same with turkeys. Results will be available later this year.

The Minnesota research is attracting considerable interest from livestock nutritionists, Baidoo says. “Anything we can do to reduce costs is helpful.”

The next step

If low-O meal performs well in livestock rations, the next step is to improve the process for extracting oligosaccharides from soybeans, Timmerman says. AURI has already sponsored some preliminary research on this problem.

Another challenge will be “to find markets for the extracted sugars,” Youngerberg says. Uses for oligosaccharides include food additives and dairy cattle feed. In the future, oligosaccharides could be used to make cellulosic ethanol.

Eventually, genetically-modified, low-O soybean varieties may be developed for specific livestock markets, Baidoo says, offering Minnesota farmers another valueadded crop to grow.

Soybeans — abundant, high in protein, palatable — are the foundation of livestock nutrition. Minnesota, which ranks first in turkey production and third in hog production, is a huge potential market for low-O meal, Youngerberg says. “We’re trying to make soybean meal a better fit for our customers.”