Chickpeas, high in protein and micronutrients, are becoming a partial replacement for soybean meal and cereal grains in livestock feed.
The pulse crop is mostly grown for human consumption, but as global production increases, product not suitable for humans is being shifted into cattle feed.
Using the beamline at the Canadian Light Source, a synchrotron at the University of Saskatchewan, researchers can compare the molecular structure of different varieties of chickpea seeds to see which have the highest nutritional value best suited as a feed for beef and dairy cattle.
They honed in on CDC Cory, a desi type chickpea mostly grown on the Prairies.
Unlike the larger and lighter-coloured kabuli chickpea, desi contain smaller, darker seeds with a rougher coat.
The new chickpea was cultivated by the university’s Crop Development Centre and seed samples were provided by Bunyamin Tar’an, professor of plant sciences and chickpea breeder at the university.
While the chickpea breeding program is mostly geared to get the most value for human consumption, Tar’an said they are also exploring agronomic improvement and characteristics like adaptation, high yield, early maturity and disease resistance.
The breeding program is also looking at nutritional composition, such as oil and protein content, iron and beta-carotene.
Until now, information on CDC Cory’s nutritional value as a ruminant feed was limited, said Peiqiang Yu, a Ministry of Agriculture strategic research program chair in feed research and development at the university’s College of Agriculture and Bioresources.
Yu said the synchrotron can be used for selecting high quality varieties because the light beam’s technology is non-destructive to the seed.
Unlike traditional wet chemistry, he said CLS techniques preserve the natural microstructure of samples and can detect chemical information at a cellular dimension.
“We can localize at the micron stage where these (nutritional) components are concentrated and how much they are distributed. For example, closer to the seed coat, deep inside the seed (in) what we call endosperm (is) where the proteins are concentrated. And accordingly, processing or fractionation can be done depending on if it going for animal feed or human food,” said Chithra Karunakaran, agriculture science manager at CLS.
Future research using the synchrotron will see how different chickpea processing techniques, like dry and moist heating including microwave irradiation, affect internal nutrient components.
“Microwaving the chickpea, (for example) changes the protein quality. The total protein is one thing, but the protein quality is another. So based on the molecular structure of protein, the protein quality changes and it affects the digestibility in human or animal systems,” said Karunakaran.