A Balancing Act – The Science Behind an Artfully Created Feed Formula

Grains being measured in a laboratory

Dr. Amy Batal is the mastermind behind Sanderson Farms’ innovative feed formulas. By day, Batal is a nutritionist entrusted to care for the diets and overall health of millions of chickens at a time. By night, she is the loving wife and mother of five children who is passionate about nutrition, whether her customers are her family or the millions of animals entrusted to her care.

For Sanderson Farms’ Nutritionist, Dr. Amy Batal, the task of formulating a nutritious, cost-effective and sustainable food source for the more than 510 million chickens processed annually at Sanderson Farms is both a science and an art. According to Batal, the science portion of the equation is in using her 15 years of experience within the animal nutrition field to develop, down to the last kernel of corn, the exact feed profile necessary to grow healthy chickens while minimizing the company’s carbon footprint and impact on the environment. The artistic portion, on the other hand, is added into the feed equation when Batal artfully balances the implementation and distribution of her scientific feed formulas across Sanderson Farms’ eight feed mills and more than 900 independently-owned family farms.

For Batal, the science and art of balancing nutrition, cost-effectiveness and sustainability in Sanderson Farms’ feed does not make for an easy or even average work day. In a given day, she may spend time running research trials with Sanderson Farms’ veterinary staff to ensure proper nutrition of our birds, negotiate with suppliers for ingredient prices, or review agricultural statistics to determine the company’s standing within the industry.

Batal’s position is by no means just simply a desk job. On an average day, she can be found traveling anywhere from farms to feed mills to conduct audits and observe feed quality. Batal also strives to use her expertise in the field to spread her knowledge of feed formulation and nutrition throughout the industry.

Last year, Batal traveled to Nashville, Tennessee to present at USPOULTRY’s 2016 Feed Mill Management Seminar. During her presentation titled “Ingredient Changes…Why Are They Important and Why Should the Mill Manager Speak Up?,” Batal discussed the cost-effectiveness of formulating a premier poultry feed that is both sustainable and beneficial to birds, while also considering the logistics necessary to create and maintain the feed in mills.

With over 3.5 million tons of feed produced in our mills each year, feed is certainly a costly endeavor for Sanderson Farms considering approximately 75 percent of the company’s production costs are dedicated to feeding our birds. With this cost in mind, Batal frequently adjusts feed formulas in an effort to keep feed costs down without compromising the nutritional value for our chickens.

In order to combat the rising costs of ingredients, Batal devotes a considerable amount of time to negotiating ingredient prices with suppliers. Alongside Feed Ingredient Buyer, Steve Weathersby, she determines which ingredients are the most cost effective, the most readily available and the least variable. Because prices change weekly, Batal constantly adjusts which ingredients and how much of those ingredients she utilizes in a given feed formula depending on what ingredients are available for the right price.

For Batal, part of the art of creating a scientific feed formula includes experimenting with alternate ingredients to find just the right feed profile. Despite its significant impact on the company’s operating costs, cost effectiveness is not the sole concern when formulating a premier feed profile. Sanderson Farms’ feed must also be effective for the sustainable production of 100% Natural Chicken considering the company’s consciousness of its use of vital resources.

Since launching our Corporate Responsibility Program in 2010, Sanderson Farms has deliberately focused efforts to reduce our company’s impact on the environment. Sustainability is an increasingly important factor in the creation of our feed, yet most people don’t understand what sustainability truly means in regards to feed formulation. “Sustainable means utilizing every resource we have,” said Batal. “We feed as adequately or as optimal to the animal’s requirement as we can without wasting anything.”

While the company is certainly mindful of its utilization of resources, Batal gives credit to the birds themselves for being sustainable. “Think about it,” said Batal. “Chickens are great converters of something that’s really not of value to humans as a great protein source.”

Unlike beef and pork products, poultry is the most efficient converter of feed ingredients like corn and soybeans to pounds of meat. For every 2.3 acres of harvested soybeans and 1.6 acres of harvested corn, Sanderson Farms yields more than 10,000 pounds of salable chicken products.

At this point, you’re probably wondering what ingredients are used to compose a premier feed formula such as the formulas Batal works so tirelessly to create. In scientific terms, it’s a complex formula of energy sources, proteins, fats, amino acids, vitamins and minerals. When broken down, Sanderson Farms’ complex feed formula is quite easy to understand because it is developed from natural, wholesome ingredients.

When creating a feed formula, Batal begins with an energy source, which, for poultry, is primarily corn and soybean meal. Protein is then added to the formula through the use of alternative ingredients. One alternative ingredient source such as “meat and bone meal” may evoke discussion regarding the use of animal by-products in our feed, but Batal assures that the practice is science-based and serves as a critical source of protein in the bird’s diet. After all, chickens are omnivores that need a protein rich diet.

After corn, soybean meal and protein sources are included in the formula, fats are added along with vitamin premixes, mineral premixes and various other supplements. All of these ingredients are combined at Sanderson Farms’ eight feed mills where they are mixed and formed into pellets, which is the most efficient way to feed chickens.

Though Sanderson Farms’ feed formula sounds simple enough, Batal’s job is not as simple as creating one feed profile for all birds. Throughout their lifespan, chickens grow and develop through a multitude of stages, and each of those stages has a completely different nutritional need than the other.

According to Batal, protein requirements are highest when a bird is young. As chickens grow, their energy requirements increase. As a poultry nutritionist, Batal takes great care to consider the dietary needs of our birds throughout each stage of their growth and development. Therein lies the delicate balance between art and science that goes hand-in-hand with being the nutritionist for the third largest poultry producer in the nation.

For Batal, all of the hard work is validated by simply seeing the fruits of her labor. When questioned about her favorite part of developing an industry competitive feed formula, Batal simply replied, “all of it.”

“Amy has made us a stronger company since she came aboard,” said Randy Pettus, Director of Production for Sanderson Farms. “Our birds are receiving exactly what they need without excessive additives or costs.”

Such an unwavering dedication to the field of animal nutrition shines through Batal’s work and her uncompromised passion for the well-balanced diets of the company’s flocks. “The biggest thing is seeing what you do have an impact,” said Batal. Day in and day out, she works tirelessly to ensure Sanderson Farms’ chickens receive the best possible nutrition at all times in order to truly be 100% natural, 100% of the time.