Adapting the feed, the animal and the feeding techniques to improve the efficiency and sustainability of monogastric livestock production systems
Adapting the feed, the animal and the feeding techniques to improve the efficiency and sustainability of monogastric livestock production systems

Progress reports for the Feed-a-Gene project 2015-2016

These progress reports were established by Ludovic Brossard (INRA), Guy Garrod (Newcastle University), Hélène Gilbert (INRA), Veronika Halas (Kaposvár University), Alfons Jansman (WUR), Knud Erik Bach Knudsen (AU-Foulum), Jesús Pomar (Universitat de Lleida).

Alternative feed ingredients and real-time characterisation

Green protein extraction at Aarhus University

Feed-a-Gene aims to develop alternative high-quality protein ingredients. 

Feed-a-Gene is conducting research in the following areas:

  • Novel feed processing and enzyme technologies for enhancing nutritional value.
  • Green protein extracted from plant biomass.
  • Real-time characterisation of the composition and nutritive value of feeds.

Enzyme technologies

Commercial samples of European rapeseeds and soybeans chosen by IFIP have been sent to partners for in vitro tests and for selecting novel proteases and NSPases by DuPont. Commercial rapeseed meal will be upgraded at Hamlet Protein late 2016 and used in a nutritional study at IRTA early 2017. IRTA will study the use of the selected enzymes for improving the nutritive value for pigs. A study with broilers is planned in 2017 at Newcastle University. 

Processing technologies

IFIP worked to determine the most efficient parameters for the extrusion pressing and flaking-pressing-cooking of Europe-grown soybeans. In summer 2016, four soybean meals (700 kg each) will be produced using these technologies on dehulled and whole soybeans for a pig trial at Kaposvár University early 2017.

Green protein

Protein extraction from green biomass (red clover, white clover, ryegrass and alfalfa) was carried out at a laboratory scale at AU-Foulum. The resulting products were analysed and used in nutritional assays with rats. In Spring and Summer 2016, green protein extraction will be carried out in a pilot plant. The use of NSPases to increase protein yield will be tested. Early 2017, green protein and the pulp by-product will be used in feed trials in pigs (AU) and rabbits (IRTA) respectively.

Real-time characterisation

Samples from the biological database at AU were selected for NIR scanning and catalogued. These samples include more than 550 samples of feed ingredients and more than 400 samples of feed mixtures with known chemical and biological data from pigs. A postdoctoral researcher was hired to perform NIR scans and data analysis that will correlate NIR data to chemical and in vivo data. The work will start in the second quarter of 2016. Wet chemical methods for measuring heat-damaged protein will be developed at Wageningen UR (WUR) starting in the second quarter of 2016. The samples analysed by wet chemistry at WUR will be scanned by NIR at AU.

Working with China

During the meeting, European and Chinese scientists decided that China Agricultural University would work on identifying novel protein sources available in China that could be used to replace imported soybeans, and on enzymes that could improve the nutritional value of feed ingredients.

Identification of feed efficiency traits related to individual diversity

Feed-a-Gene aims to identify animal traits related to individual variation in the animal response to feed, and overall feed efficiency under different environmental conditions.

Research will focus on:

  • Between-animal variation in voluntary feed intake and feed intake behaviour and its consequences on feed efficiency. Progress is being made to determine voluntary feed intake in individual broilers and rabbits which are group-housed.
  • Nutrient digestibility with emphasis on the intermediary role of symbiotic intestinal microbiota. New, more rapid NIR-based methods are in development to evaluate nutrient digestibility in pigs. The relationship will be determined between microbiota composition of faeces and excreta, nutrient digestibility and feed efficiency in pigs, poultry and rabbits.
  • Nutrient metabolism as affected by nutrient and ingredient supply, feeding strategy, environmental conditions and genotypic differences within and between populations of animals. Studies are scheduled in pigs exploring reasons of variation in protein efficiency in pigs and related traits in dependence of genotype.
  • The value of behavioural traits on feed efficiency in pigs. Physical activity, group behaviour and feeding patterns are studied using feeding stations allowing measurement of individual feed intake using new video recording and analysis techniques for studying individual animal behaviour.

In coordination with the other Feed-a-Gene research teams, the new and refined traits will be used to model the response of animals to the nutrient supply and environmental conditions, to further develop the concept of precision feeding and to ease development of breeding strategies with emphasis on feed-efficient animals.

Modelling feed use mechanisms and animal response to nutrient supply and environmental challenges 

Feed-a-Gene will develop dynamic-mechanistic models to assess feed and nutrient utilisation for pigs and poultry raised in different environments. 

These models will predict nutrient utilisation in different species and between individuals of the same herd/flock. A model is designed to forecast impact of perturbations such as environmental changes and other factors. These models will be the basis for creating a Decision Support Software. In 2015, a conceptual model of dry matter digestion was developed. It accounts for different factors of variation including the species and physiological stages. The nutrient flows through the gastro-intestinal tract are represented. The prediction of actual feed intake is crucial for the digestive and the metabolic modules: for this reason, factors affecting daily feed intake were reviewed and quantitative data were collected to develop the equations of the model. Concept of the module for calcium and phosphorus metabolism has also been developed. 

Unknown factors that impair growth performance (including daily feed intake) have been described by a spring-damper system. Accordingly, the perturbation can be characterized by two variables that correspond to the animal resistance and resilience. For characterising and estimating variation among individual livestock (pigs and chickens), methods and tools have been developed for estimating individual variation and uncertainty in performance. In addition, these methods are used to estimate uncertainty in future performance, to scale-up to the population level. Through scenario exploration, they can support management decisions across a range of practical situations.

Management systems for precision feeding to increase resilience to fluctuating environments

Feed-a-Gene will develop management systems and automatic feeding devices capable of supplying a diet in real-time adapted to the needs of individual animals or groups of animals. 

During the last year, progress has been made on the components of the future management system for precision feeding. The architecture of the decision support tool for real-time determination of nutritional requirements has been designed. This comprises modules such as biological models for requirement calculations or data management system for exchange of input and output data between the different modules. The inventory of situations to be treated by the system has been done. The piloting rules to handle these situations in terms of available data have been decided. The development of the precision feeder device is in progress, with redesign and implementation for growing pigs. This device will be used for experimentation and demonstration activities.

Use of new traits in animal selection

Feed-a-Gene will propose new selection strategies that improve selection for feed efficiency and changes in feed composition in pigs, chickens and rabbits.

The improvement of feed efficiency in monogastric systems raise the following concerns:

  • Selection of purebred animals in high quality nucleus farms for the production of crossbred individuals in production farms under optimal conditions.
  • Cost of individual phenotyping of on-farm feed efficiency.

Feed-a-Gene studies will target the use of new measurements that take crossbred performance and genomic information into account for selection, with a control of the correlated impacts on the animal sensitivity to environmental changes, product quality, environment and welfare. During the first year, the main tasks consisted in developing statistical models that include the genetics of feed efficiency to account for longitudinal data (PhD project at INRA), variability of the animal responses to select for robustness, and social interactions between animals raised in groups (post doctoral researcher at IRTA).

First developments were presented during the annual meeting. Some results will be presented at the World Rabbit Congress in China (June 2016). Trials are on-going to collect data on pig behaviour, welfare and robustness (Topigs Norsvin, INRA, IRTA) in relation with feed efficiency, as well as trials in layers to produce genomic samples for understanding the response to high dietary fibre/low energy diets (INRA). Analyses of biological samples have been organised, with partial sequencing of gut microbiota and animal genotyping in rabbits (INRA and IRTA, with CRAG), pigs (INRA) and broilers (INRA). Studies of selection strategies using crossbred and genomic information will start mid-2016.

In 2017, individual phenotyping of feed intake in chickens (INRA, Cobb) and rabbits (IRTA) and on-farm digestibility data in pigs will be available from other Feed-a-Gene teams to measure large cohorts of animals for genetic studies. Genetic and genomic studies interrelating feed efficiency and gut microbiota in pig, rabbit and poultry will start mid-2016. The link between feed efficiency and robustness to different diets will be studied through the results produced by on-going trials with different partners. In poultry, a deeper understanding of the viability of the traits will be provided using metabolomics analyses and will result in biomarkers of feed efficiency. A post-doctoral researcher will be hired by WUR to produce results on the use of genomic information for selection on feed efficiency. Development of a statistical model will continue and will be applied to the project data (Topigs Norsvin, INRA, IRTA and IFIP). Actions to reinforce interactions with studies on trait definitions and modelling of feed efficiency are planned for the next year.

Sustainability assessment of production systems

New animal production systems resulting from the Feed-a-Gene project will have to comply with sustainability criteria. 

Feed-a-Gene will:

  • Identify sustainability indicators through a Delphi questionnaire.
  • Provide Life Cycle Assessments of feeds, devices and breeding strategies.
  • Evaluate the net social and economic benefits of the new system through Cost-Benefit Analysis.
  • Investigate farmers’ and consumers’ attitude towards the adoption of new practices associated with the new production system.

During the meeting, researchers from Newcastle University conducted a stakeholder workshop that was designed to test a draft version of a Delphi questionnaire that will be used to investigate stakeholder opinions on the usefulness of various sustainability indicators for livestock production. Feedback from participants is being used to refine the design and wording of the questionnaire in preparation for its implementation across a sample of 180 European stakeholders in September 2016. The prospective stakeholder list has to be improved and refined before September 2016. IFIP will provide guidance on information to collect in order to prepare Life Cycle Assessment of feeds, devices and breeding strategies developed by Feed-a-Gene. Creda will carry out a market analysis related to novel feeds developed in Feed-a-Gene.