Discarded Saffron as a wonderful feed additive in poultry

First study of its kind in India conducted by animal nutritionists at SKUAST-K
Representational Photo
Representational Photo



Poultry industry has emerged as the most dynamic, and fast expanding segment in animal husbandry sector with around eight percent growth rate per annum (Anonymous, 2019). The recent growth of Indian poultry sector has been derived from some other key factors such as increase in daily income, young population and gradual shift from vegetarianism to non-vegetarianism preferring chicken meat mostly.

As per 2019 livestock census, annual growth rate of broiler production is about 11% while egg production is about 8.51% with poultry meat contributing about 50.06% of the total meat produced in the country. The annual per capita availability also increased to 60 eggs and 2.5 Kg of meat, consistently with increase in productivity. According to one estimate annually J&K, predominately being non-vegetarian, consumes 121 crore eggs and 7.4 crore Kg poultry meat a year.

In Kashmir valley, the poultry production is different from the rest of the country due to its temperate climate, higher altitude, lack of local feed resources and high cost of labour. Because of extreme cold environmental temperature, particularly from November to March, poultry production becomes a challenging task in Kashmir during winters. Despite these difficulties, the last decade has witnessed tremendous growth in the poultry sector in J&K with large number of educated unemployed youth taking poultry farming as a sustainable means of earning their livelihood. Still there is significant gap between requirement and production of poultry and poultry products in the state.

Moreover, the increasing human population also increases the demand and in order to meet the objective the efficient poultry production is the immediate need of the hour. There is an extreme selection pressure on broilers for both high growth rate and feed efficiency which puts high demand on the metabolic activities and hence causes extreme physiological oxidative stress resulting due to excessive production of free radicals (Mishra and Jha, 2019). Another important factor for economical and profitable broiler production is maintenance of thermo neutral environment (i.e., 18 to 25 ºC) thereby increasing the extra expenditure on maintenance (Pawar et al., 2016).

Efficient poultry production necessitates the usage of antibiotics as curative and prophylactics, along with use of antioxidant supplementation to maintain effective antioxidant defenses to ensure maximum gain in minimum time with better health. However, use of antibiotics as a growth promoter in livestock feed has been fully banned in the European Union since January 2006 (Regulation 1831/2003/EC) owing to antibiotic resistance hazard.

These concerns about antibiotics initiated the surge of exploring alternatives feed additives with similar antimicrobial and growth-promoting effects. In the recent years, some feed additives such as probiotics (Kridtayopas et al., 2019), organic acids (Upadhayaet al., 2016), enzymes (Cowieson, 2012) and phytogenics (Gong et al., 2014) are used as a replacement for antibiotics as animal growth promoters. Due to the increasing awareness, health consciousness and preference for natural foods among consumers, scientists are compelled to use natural herbs as feed additive in poultry production.

Phytogenic feed additive has been reported to enhance performance, feed conversion ratio, carcass meat safety and quality in animals (Stanacevet al., 2011). Besides enhancing performance, phytogenic also has anti-oxidant (Alagawamy et al., 2016), antimicrobial (Mitschet al., 2004), anticoccidial and immunogenic (Davoodi 2010) properties. They also improve the palatability of the feed and have beneficial effects on nutrient utilization (Platel and Srinivasan, 2004) by improving gastrointestinal morphology (Upadhaya et al., 2016).

Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) one of the potential sources of herbal feed additive ensuring a sure supply of antioxidants to its consumers is a perennial spicy herb and well known as Red Gold asthis plant is the most expensive cultivated herb in the world (Saeidnia et al.,2012), the discarded saffron petals can be used as feed additive and a source of antioxidants to birds and other animals. C. sativus is cultivated in west of Asia and Mediterranean countries which have cold winter and warm summer especially with less humidity like Iran, Spain, Italy, Greek, Morocco, Azerbaijan and J&K. In India this high value aromatic spice is called Kesar and in Kashmiri it is called Koung.

India produces approximately 7% of the total world saffron exclusively from J&K (Ganaie and Singh, 2019). In J&K saffron is cultivated in the districts of Pulwama (74.6%) especially in Pampore; Budgam (16.13%) and Srinagar (6.68%). Pampore has the rich heritage of cultivating this golden spice which is also known as the ‘saffron town of Kashmir’, which alone contributes about 2128 kg saffron annually. It has been recognized as Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Site (GIAHS) by F.A.O. In J&K, the area under saffron crop is 3674 hectares and production is 9.6 million tones with the yield rate of 2.61 kg/h (Ganaie and Singh, 2019).

The plant of C. sativa has mainly three parts viz; bulb, stem and flower. The underground parts of the plant, corm or bulb are used to produce new plant as this plant has no seed propagation. In each kg of harvested fresh flower, there are 2,170 flowers, and therefore 13,020 petals and sepals. From ancient times, the flower of the plant Crocus sativus is widely used to promote health and fight diseases in view of its wide range of medicinal uses. Saffron is the rich in carotenoids and contains about 150 volatile aromatic substances. It contains crocin, which is having strong coloring property, distinctive aroma with taste and essential oils which are responsible for its therapeutic properties (Rioset al., 1996).

In the literature, little information on the use of dietary saffron as animal feed additive is available and is limited to layers and broiler chickens (Florou-Panerietal., 2019). No study on the subject has been conducted till date in India as searched by the authors on the internet and different related journals. One doubt to the use of saffron as a feed additive in animals could be the fact that saffron is the most expensive cultivated spice. However, it may be noted that at least 30% of saffron samples do not fulfill quality specifications and are considered as waste products (Hensel et al., 2006). This discarded saffron along with other unused by products that have the same composition as the rest of the spice, are discarded for aesthetic reasons and marketed as a relatively cheap byproduct of this industrial production.

The low cost of this material encouraged its investigation to be used as a promising and sustainable feed additive for its antioxidant and coloring properties, as well as the health promoting effects. Petals, which form major part of saffron flowers by weight, are currently considered as waste material though their chemical profile is similar to that of the stamens. Phytochemical analysis has shown that saffron flowers are rich in antioxidant compounds like flavanols, flavanones, crocins and crocetin responsible for variety of health benefits traditionally attributed to saffron (Goliet al., 2012). Crocins form the main pigment of C. sativus stigmas, have also been identified in petals (Moraga et al., 2013). In traditional medicine, saffron petal is consumed as antispasmodic, stomachic, curative of anxiety, antitumor and antidepressant (Mortazavi et al., 2001). Fahim et al.(2012) reported that saffron petals contain a good composition and a growth promoter for animals. Division of Animal Nutrition, SKUAST-K (2021), has the distinction to first try their hand in India on the discarded saffron petals as feed additives in poultry birds with outstanding findings. The Saffron petals used in the study as feed additives in broilers were found to contain 85.00% DM, 11.94% CP, 5.03% EE, 7.85% CF, 52.81% NFE, 5.37% total ash, 1.33% acid insoluble ash, 36.10% NDF, 30.00% ADF, 6.10% hemicelluloses and 5.90% cellulose. The calcium and phosphorus contents in Saffron petals were found to be 0.78 and 0.34 percent, respectively. The Crocin content was found 0.785% W/W and it was concluded that Saffron petals have a great potential to be used as feed additive in animals. The maiden study also revealed that there was decreased mortality, increased weight gain, improved feed efficiency and overall better performance with saffron petals as feed additive. Also there was increased dry matter intake and protein digestibility indicating the improvement of feed utilization efficiency resulting to better growth rate and feed conversion ratio with saffron petal supplementation in birds.

Gowher Gull Sheikh and Parvaiz Ahmed Reshi, Division of Animal Nutrition, F.V.Sc & AH, SKUAST-K

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