Using Amaranth in Poultry Diets
Amaranth (Amaranthus cruentus) was a primary food for Central American Indians before Columbus arrived in the New World. The energy content of amaranth is similar to that of other cereal grains, but the protein content is twice as high. The grain has a protein content of 14-18%. It is high in lysine and well balanced in other amino acids.
Raw grain amaranth contains heat labile, growth depressing anti-nutrients for chickens, although Japanese quail are not effected . Amaranth can be used as a feed ingredient for broilers if heat treatment is applied to the grain prior to feeding. The heat treatment is necessary to partially or completely destroy the anti-nutritive factors present. Research has shown that extruded grain amaranth can be fed to broiler chicks without adversely affecting body weight, feed utilization, or carcass yields. An upper limit of inclusion 40% is recommended. Amaranth grain also has a market in the health food industry where it is an alternative for those with allergies to wheat. If it is to be used in poultry feeds it will have to compete with this market.
Research has shown that heat processed amaranth grain can fully replace meat-and-bone meal in broiler diets. Addition research has shown that steam pelleting of broiler diets containing amaranth increased feed intake and improved growth, but there was also higher fat deposition. Adding molasses to the diet did not improve chicken performance. Utilization of amaranth increases as the broilers get older indicating that amaranth should be included in only finisher diets.
With regards to laying hens, research has shown that extruded amaranth was incorporated into corn-soybean meal layer rations. Layers fed diets containing amaranth required significantly less feed to produce a dozen eggs or a gram of egg than those fed the control diet. No differences were observed for shell strength, shell thickness, number or severity of blood spots, or Haugh units (measure of egg quality). Extruded grain amaranth may be effectively used in layer rations without detrimentally altering production characteristics but pigment needs to be added to the feed to improve yolk color.
In addition to feeding the grain, the amaranth leaf is also a potential feed ingredient .Amaranth is known by other names around the world - pigweed, callaloo and mchicha (which means 'a vegetable for all' in Swahili). Amaranth leaves are nutritionally similar to beets, Swiss chard and spinach, but contain three times more calcium and three times more niacin (vitamin B3) than spinach leaves.
Sun-dried amaranth leaf meal is high in crude protein (~23%), including methionine, and dietary energy. Amaranth leaf meal can only be included in broiler diets up to 5% unless the diets are supplement with an enzyme cocktail that provides cellulase, glucanase and xylanase activity (Example: Roxazyme G2).