Peas and Lysine

Q: Are peas a good feed ingredient?

A: They are an outstanding ingredient when you can get them in a feed.  We have been using them successfully here at Union Point Custom Feeds for many years.  We’ve found them to be an ideal protein source for many of the feeds we make. 

They aren’t very common because they are a regional ingredient.  The Northwest is a great source of peas, and if you’ve had split pea soup you have probably eaten peas from here.  Green peas, yellow peas, maple peas and sprouting peas all do well here, and if you are trying to avoid toxic genetically modified feeds they are a valuable choice. 

The amino acid in them, lysine, is the kind of protein part that is the most important for growth and body maintenance.  When feed manufacturers use soybeans or alfalfa, or when we humans eat soy protein, tofu or cooked beans, that’s what we are looking for.  The great thing about peas as that they don’t need to be cooked to inactivate the anti-nutritional factors.  Think about it – you can eat raw peas, but you can’t eat raw beans.  Soybeans must be cooked.  Peas don’t. Click here for more information about trypsin inhibitors.

Peas have 22-23% high quality crude protein and they have excellent carbohydrates as well.  Unlike soybeans, where a lot of the volume of the bean is oil, peas are mostly protein, high quality fiber and low glycemic index carbohydrates.  By themselves, their protein is incomplete, but just like with human vegetarian diets, a combination of peas and grains can make up a nearly perfect protein profile.  You can’t make a good feed with peas alone (they are low on methionine) but if you combine them right with other ingredients you can make a superior feed.

The carbohydrates in peas are digested slowly and evenly, making them a long-lasting and satisfying food source.  We find that animals fed a pea-based diet don’t suffer the same metabolic ups and downs as animals fed on quickly metabolized carbohydrates.  A SARE grant one of our producers ran surprised them with that unexpected result.  The birds did not act like they were starving.  They ate steadily throughout the day compared to the control group.  People feeding a pea-based diet to pet pigs report the same result.

The peas we use are from the human food chain.  They are too big or too little, broken, or otherwise imperfect.  They are equally wholesome and because they were intended for humans they must meet human specifications.  They are free of pesticides, herbicides, mold and other bad things.

The form in which peas are included in a feed is important. They are best included in fresh-ground pelleted form for birds and pigs.  Ruminants and horses often enjoy them whole.  You would expect birds to eat them in their natural form, but some do (pigeons) and some don’t (lots of chickens.)

There aren’t enough peas grown for the human market to make feed peas widely available and common in feeds, so sometimes people do wonder why we use them.  Owners aren’t used to seeing them on an ingredients tag.  That’s because peas aren’t abundant enough for large manufacturers to get them at the low prices they are accustomed to paying for protein meals. 

Here are Union Point we don’t have to argue with a purchasing agent who can get cheaper protein meals.  We can stick to our guns and use peas instead of genetically modified soymeal, canola meal, or unidentifiable plant protein meals. 

One particularly good overview of the topic can be found here: “A Guide to Feeding Field Peas to Livestock” found here:

Here’s another good article, “The Benefits of Field Peas in Animal Feed”, which can be found here:

Human nutrition has recognized the value of pea protein.  Not every mill has access to this resource, but since we do, we invite you to try it for your animals.