Written by: Dr. Jacquie Jacob, University of Kentucky
Until recently pearl millet was grown in the United States as a forage crop. Grain-breeding programs in Georgia and Kansas have produced pearl millet hybrids with higher grain yields. Pearl millet grain is higher in protein than corn and contains more lysine, methionine, and threonine.
Pearl millet grain does not have many of the antinutritional factors that other alternative grains do. Compared to rye and sorghum, pearl millet is low in tannins. Pearl millet does not appear to need to be heat-treated to destroy any protease inhibitor or other harmful factors. Pearl millet grain does, however, contain saponins, which are known to damage the lining of the digestive tract.
The pearl millet grown in the United States appears to be resistant to Aspergillus flavus infection, reducing concerns about mycotoxins. However, pearl millet grain is susceptible to Fusarium fungi, but the level of Fusarium toxins are usually low.
Pearl millet has been shown to be a suitable feed ingredient for poultry diets. Up to 50% pearl millet can be added to broiler diets without adversely affecting performance. Pearl millet is higher in methionine than corn, alleviating some of the need for synthetic methionine supplementation in organic poultry diets.
Feeding pearl millet to laying hens has an added benefit—although there are no adverse effects on egg production or feed efficiency as long as the pearl millet is ground, the fatty acid profile of the eggs the hens produce is altered. The eggs from hens receiving the diets based on pearl millet are generally higher in omega-3 fatty acids and lower in omega-6s than eggs from hens receiving a corn-based diet. In the United States, eggs with increased omega-3 fatty acids are typically sold for a higher price than conventional eggs.
Although pearl millet can be grown in areas not favorable to corn, and the grain can be used in poultry diets, the production of pearl millet has been limited due to its susceptibility to rust disease. Rust-resistant hybrids of pearl millet have been developed that alleviate this concern.
An additional factor that has limited the use of pearl millet is the fact that most mills do not have two post-grinding bins for grains. Research has shown that inclusion of up to 50% whole pearl millet seeds can be used in broiler diets without adversely affecting broiler performance or the quality of feed pellets. The use of whole seeds eliminates the costs associated with grinding millet and the need for bin space to store ground millet.
(Source: Feedstuffs Ingredient Analysis Table: 2011 edition by Amy Batal and Nick Dale, University of Georgia)