February 27, 2015

27/02/2015: Lupins for Layers

by Tony Burgess, Birchgrove Eggs

First published in Milling and grain, January 2015

Lupins are a high protein, high energy, nitrogen-fixing grain legume with a protein and oil composition that can effectively compete with imported soya as part of livestock and fish diets.  As a result, lupins have considerable potential to provide a comparable UK-grown vegetable protein source for farmed animals and aquaculture, as well as providing other advantages as arable break crops.  With the proposed CAP greening reforms and the requirements of the new Basic Payment Scheme in respect of Ecological Focus Areas, there has never been a better time to look at legumes in crop rotations and lupins in particular tick several boxes.

Over the last three years an industry-led consortium has been carrying out research into the use of home grown yellow and narrow-leafed lupins as a soya replacement in animal feeds, research that is coming to an end, at least for now.  The project was led by Poultry Producer, Tony Burgess of Birchgrove Eggs and in addition to leading the partnership Tony undertook a full commercial trial on a flock of 3000 Bovan layers as part of the project.

The project Lupins in UK Agriculture and Aquaculture (LUKAA) arose from a UK Government drive to investigate the feasibility for sustainable home grown sources of protein for UK farmed animals and aquaculture.  This project involved ten industrial partners co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK and in partnership with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and two research institutions.

The project brief was to investigate a home-grown protein source, in this case edible or ‘sweet’ lupins, as a soya replacement in livestock and fish diets.  Partners used innovative approaches to breeding, agronomy, feed processing and nutrition to try to overcome technical and economic barriers and provide incentives for lupin use in terrestrial and aquatic farm animal production.

Options for poultry feed were explored initially through a series of experiments at Aberystwyth University, where different diets using the yellow and narrow-leafed lupins were fed to layers.  Point of lay hens were fed one of four diets for 18 weeks (6 week growing phase plus 12 week laying phase), their performance monitored and egg quality recorded.  Bird performance measurements included bird live weight, dry matter intake, water intake, faecal dry matter, faecal bacterial counts, egg production and weight, shell weight, yolk and colour characteristics. 

All the rations contained 15-16 percent protein with an energy value of 11.4 mega joules per kilogram. The control diet was a standard soya based layers mash and in each of the trial diets lupins were included at 150 grams per kilogram, either whole or de-hulled, with or without the addition of a novel fermentation product shown to improve nutritional availability.

The findings of these experiments with both the narrow leafed and yellow lupins were that lupins can be successfully fed to laying hens without compromising performance or egg quality.  There was no effect on bird growth or weight, no effect on dry matter or water intake, no effect on egg production (number or weight), no effect on bird health.  In both cases a significant increase in yolk redness was observed.  In both cases neither dehulling the lupins nor adding the novel fermentation product had any significant effect.

Following these results a third trial testing different inclusion rates of lupin was carried out using the yellow lupin.  The experimental diets included the lupin at 15 percent layers mash with whole lupin (50:50 soya and lupins ratio); at 22.5 percent layers mash with whole lupin and; 30 percent layers mash with whole lupin, 100 percent soya replacement.  This study concluded that inclusion of yellow lupins to reduce soya inclusion had no effect upon bird live weight, dry matter or water intake, egg production (number or weight), egg quality parameters or bird health.  Again however, yolk redness was affected by lupin inclusion in a manner that varied for each diet over time.

Table 1. Layer performance and egg quality, when fed yellow lupins


Presented at World’s Poultry Science Association (WPSA) UK Spring meeting 2014 and published in British Poultry Abstracts.

Following these successful trials under experimental conditions a full scale commercial trial was carried out at Birchgrove Eggs where a shed, containing flock of 3000 Bovan hens, was fed a diet containing yellow lupins for 18 weeks.  The experimental feed, supplied by Wynnstay PLC, was a balanced layers feed which included a protein replacement source of 15 percent whole (hulls intact) yellow lupins, in part replacement for soya protein.  At 150 grams per kilogram the lupins replaced up to 30 percent of the soya in the diet.  This was fed to the flock from week 16 through to week 36, a period covering the important phases of onsite bird relocation and growth stage, through to maximum production.  The housed weights of the birds averaged 1300g at 17 weeks.  The yellow lupins used for the layer trials were grown in Devon and supplied by Soya UK, the Bovans were supplied by Joice and Hill.

The performance of the Bovan hens was compared with the previous cycles’ performance in the same house.  In line with the findings of the earlier experiments at the University, the commercial trial at Birchgrove Eggs was successful.  The birds fed the lupin ration performed the same if not better than those who had eaten a standard wheat/soya ration. Body weight was maintained and egg production was the same at week 37. That is, the incorporation of yellow lupins at 15 percent of dry matter had no negative effect on bird growth, live weight, health and egg production.  The table below compares key indicators from the 18 week commercial trial period in 2013 at Birchgrove with those from a more standard commercial flock at Birchgrove in 2012.

Table 2. A comparison of results between birds fed a standard soya based feed in 2012 and those fed a lupin-based feed during the trial in 2013


Figures are estimates using standard commercial data collection methods

It was also observed that the birds fed on lupin based feed had 100 percent feather cover at week 37.

Tony admitted he had concerns before the commercial trial such as palatability of lupins to poultry, feed consumption, general overall bird health and egg production, but these were laid to rest and all have exceeded expectations.  Similar positive results were found in both the ruminant and the aquaculture feeding trials carried out by other partners on the project. 

Overall, Tony believes that so far home grown lupins tick all the boxes as a soya replacement. In addition the project has also raised a number of new questions based on observations.  Tony is keen to point out that there are also possibilities that lupins can offer other benefits in animal and fish feed diets such as improved amino acid content and lower cholesterol levels, however, he emphasises that more specific research needs to be carried out to investigate these potential factors.  Tony is also keen to look further into the potential benefits of lupins crude fibre content which is 18 percent where soya is 3-6 percent.  Again this is not something the partners have been able to explore through the current project but could be a valuable direction for further detailed investigation.

Other components of the project set out to tackle the most difficult aspect of using home-grown lupins in animal feed in the UK, the availability and supply of lupins.  At the current time lupins grown in the UK amount to around 4,000ha.  Richard Flack, former Nutritionist at Wynnstay PLC stated that if demand arose from e.g. the supermarket sector, for eggs produced from a lupin based protein diet, Wynnstay alone would be looking for about 200-300 tonnes of lupin per month.  This equates to about 12,000ha of lupin sown.  Richard also calculated that lupin as a break crop could, under the right market conditions, produce in the region of UK£630 gross margin per hectare for growers.  With increasing pressures on current high value crops such as oil seed rape predicted into the future, now is perhaps an opportune time for growers to consider lupins in their rotation.

An improved agronomic package for narrow-leafed and yellow lupins in the UK will be important to improving productivity.  Project partners PGRO have recently published a Lupin Agronomy Guide, available to download from their website www.pgro.org.  This offers updated advice to growers on the ideal conditions for growing, weed control, crop reliability and value of home grown lupins in the rotation as a spring break crop.

Partners recognise that perhaps the next hardest part will be to convince supermarkets, caterers, farmers, growers and feed mills of the benefits of using a home grown lupin as a soya protein replacement.  The partners realise that despite these favourable results the success of lupins in the UK will rely heavily on demand from consumers, retailers and caterers, this demand will then translate through the much shorter supply chain than soya - to producers and growers.

This three year, business-led project brings together ten industrial partners and two research research institutes (Birchgrove Eggs, Alltech, Alvan Blanch, Ecomarine, Germinal Seeds, Kelvin Cave, PGRO, Soya UK, The Arable Group (TAG), Wynnstay PLC and the Universities of Aberystwyth and Plymouth).  The project is funded by the industry partners co-funded by the UK’s innovation agency, Innovate UK in collaboration with the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.


Innovate UK is the UK’s innovation agency.  Its goal is to accelerate economic growth by stimulating and supporting business-led innovation.  Sponsored by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Innovate UK brings together business, research and the public sector, supporting and accelerating the development of innovative products and services to meet market needs, tackle major societal challenges and help build the future economy.  For more information please visit www.innovateuk.org

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