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 2016-2017

Alternative feed ingredients and real-time characterisation (WP1)

Novel feed-processing from rapeseed and European-grown soybeans

Production of four fractions of soybean expeller products by extrusion pressing and flaking-pressing-cooking treatment of dehulled or not European grown soybeans was performed in the autumn of 2016 (Terres Inovia). A sample of European produced rapeseed meal was identified by IFIP and upgraded by Hamlet Protein.

Production of feed protein from green biomass

Protein from ryegrass and red clover was extracted with or without the use of cell-wall degrading enzymes in the pilot plant. The two by-products from the extraction of protein from ryegrass were collected and dried (Aarhus University (AU), DuPont).

Green protein production, lab scale (Aarhus University) Green protein production, pilot scale (Aarhus University)

Green protein extraction, from lab scale to pilot scale (Aarhus University)

Novel feed-processing technology to upgrade alternative feed ingredients

6 non-pelleted rapeseed meals for lab-scale fractionation were collected from different European processing plants. The processing plant for the delivering of larger quantities has also been identified (Bühler).

Nutritional evaluation of novel feed ingredients and improvements in nutritive value by use of novel enzymes

An animal experiment with ileal cannulated pigs fed the protein extracted from green biomass has been carried out (AU). Permission for performing the animal study with the soybean meal expeller products has been obtained at Kaposvár University (KU). The non-upgraded and upgraded rapeseed meals and enzymes have been delivered for the experiment with pigs at IRTA. The by-products of the extraction of protein from green biomass have been delivered to IRTA. The planning of the broiler experiment at the University of Newcastle (UNEW) is in progress.

New methodologies for characterisation of nutrient composition and value

The NIRS scanning of the individual feedstuff samples has been completed and the first calibration models have been calculated. The scanning of feed mixtures is ongoing (AU).

Identification of feed efficiency traits related to individual diversity (WP2)

Individual feed intake and feeding behaviour in broilers and rabbits

Hardware is being developed for the measurement of variation in individual feed intake in group-housed rabbits and broilers (INRA, IRTA, Claitec).

New traits and technologies for measuring and improving digestive efficiency and gut health in pigs, poultry and rabbits

Research has been initiated on:

  • Variation in faecal nutrient digestibility in growing pigs using NIRS and a variety of markers in different breeds, at different ages and using different diets (INRA).
  • Evaluation of feed efficiency through metagenomic approaches to assess the composition of gut microbiota in pigs, laying hens and rabbits (INRA, IRTA, China Agricultural University).
  • Effect of the genetic type (Pietrain versus Duroc pigs) on digestion efficiency, hindgut fermentation and microbiome-metabolome relationship in growing and finishing pigs fed different levels of digestible protein (Universitat de Lleida (UdL)).
  • Effect of the genetic type (Pietrain versus Duroc pigs) and protein level on protein and fat degradation and synthesis (UdL).
  • Short term changes in feed efficiency and energy metabolism in growing pigs induced by different challenges (heat stress, feed change, behavioural and sanitary challenges) (INRA, IRTA).

Nutrient metabolism-related traits to improve feed efficiency

Effects of birth weight of piglets on N-metabolism and N-efficiency later in life (Wageningen University (WUR)).

Behaviour and welfare-related traits influencing feed efficiency

Development of methodology and assessment of the connection between feeding behaviour and feed efficiency in pigs and welfare traits (INRA, IRTA, Topigs Norsvin).

Tracking pig behaviour with 3D/depth cameras (University of Newcastle)

Tracking pig behaviour with 3D/depth cameras (University of Newcastle)

Metabolomics to identify new traits for improvement of feed efficiency

Finding of molecular traits that are relevant indicators of feed efficiency in growing pigs using metabolomics and transcriptomics approaches (AU, INRA, UdL).

Modelling feed use mechanisms and animal response to nutrient supply and environmental challenges (WP3)

Digestive utilisation of feed and nutrients

A conceptual model has been developed to represent the transit of dry matter through the digestive tract and a database has been completed to calibrate and test the digestive model. Compartments of the model are anatomic sections of the digestive tract, inputs are feed intake and endogenous secretions while outputs are absorbed and excreted dry matter (INRA).

Metabolic utilisation of feed and nutrients

InraPorc was used as a basis for metabolic model and it has been extended to simulate Ca and P metabolism. The InraPorc model was adopted for broilers to represent flows of absorbed nutrients to protein and fat accretion (KU, UNEW, INRA, IRTA).

Accounting for environmental variability, system disturbance and robustness

Pig response was characterized to an unknown perturbation based on spring and damper system. This new model provides a better prediction for the daily feed intake whenever a perturbation period is reported. Since the period of perturbation may vary based on user’s observation and interpretation, the team started to work on the determination of generic conditions that allow identifying perturbed periods (module for automatic detection of perturbation) (INRA, UNEW, KU).

Screenshot of the perturbation module developed in Matlab (INRA)

Screenshot of the perturbation module developed in Matlab (INRA)

Accounting for variation among individuals in nutrient utilization and growth performance

Animal performance traits, which are difficult to measure (age-specific protein and lipid content, and metabolic heat), were estimated from live-weight and feed intake in individual growing pigs and other monogastrics using a growth model. Predicted lipid content and metabolic heat in pigs were compared with backfat measures and literature values. Population variation during and beyond the observed age range was predicted (INRA, UNEW).

Population distribution of fitted and predicted growth of high performing broilers (University of Newcastle)

Population distribution of fitted and predicted growth of high performing broilers (University of Newcastle)

Delivery of a Decision Support System (DSS)

In DSS development, implementation of the growing pig model calibration has been improved by handling missing measurements, the inhomogeneous variance of feed intake and body weight, experimenting with calibration strategies in R, Matlab and Delphi environments (INRA, UNEW, KU, Topigs Norsvin, Cobb).

Management systems for precision feeding to increase resilience to fluctuating environments (WP4)

Decision Support System development for real-time determination of animal nutritional requirements

According to a modular DSS architecture designed for daily real-time determination of animal nutritional requirements, the main sub-modules were developed as:

  • Data-checking process for historic consumption and raw weight data to build a consolidate DSS database.
  • Implementation of real-time (RT) dynamic data analysis in DSS for individual prediction of intake and weight focused on RT-model input.
  • Determination of nutritional requirements for real-time working from previous models for growing pigs.
  • Data management component with database implementation and integration; proposal for a model and for DSS decision rules in poultry.

INRA, IFIP, ITAVI, and UdL contributed to this work.

Precision feeding system architecture and components (INRA)

Precision feeding system architecture and components (INRA)

Controlling module (software and hardware) development to support feeder control tasks, real-time measurements

Controlling module software was implemented. For integration with the DSS and feeder devices, a high level communication language was developed. A demonstration and test was carried out in the last WP4 meeting (UdL, Exafan).

Precision feeder device development

A precision feeding prototype for pigs was designed and implemented. This prototype is currently in a testing phase under continuous operation in a commercial farm to test structural and material robustness in farm environment (UdL, Exafan).

Precision feeder device

Prototype of precison feeder device (Exafan, Universitat de Lleida)

Use of new traits in animal selection (WP5)

Genetics of components of feed efficiency and robustness indicators

Molecular data in layers were produced to understand the response to high dietary fibre / low energy diets (INRA). Trials on pig behaviour and robustness in relation with feed efficiency started being analysed (Topigs Norsvin, IRTA). Preliminary INRA results showed different activities of the HPA axis in response to selection for feed efficiency. In broilers, first association studies showed new genomic regions involved in feed intake and feed efficiency determinism (INRA).

Genetic relationships between gut microbiota and feed efficiency

Rabbit genotyping was completed and first analyses show good genotyping quality. Partial sequencing of gut microbiota in rabbits and pigs is nearly completed (INRA, IRTA).

Statistical-genetic modelling of feed efficiency and robustness features

Last year, the main activities were the testing and validating of the statistical models needed to improve the modelling of the genetics of feed efficiency and robustness on data related to feed intake and feed efficiency (INRA, IRTA, Topigs Norsvin).

Selection strategies to account for crossbred and genomic data for a sustainable selection for feed efficiency

A postdoc was hired at WUR and tests of new models started in 2016. Two physical meetings were organized to ensure a smooth and rapid start (WUR, INRA, IRTA, Topigs Norsvin, Cobb).

Demonstration of the value of social interactions and crossbred information in selection to improve feed efficiency

Preliminary steps were organized (population structure for the trials, pilot studies) (IRTA, Topigs Norsvin).

Sustainability assessment of production systems (WP6)

Identification of sustainability indicators for proposed production systems

Two rounds of the Delphi Questionnaire have been conducted in the UK, France, Netherlands, Hungary and Spain. Preliminary results of the Delphi analysis were presented at the second annual meeting (UNEW, WUR, IRTA, KU, AFZ).

Life Cycle Assessment

Work has begun on identifying the global innovative feeding strategies that will be the focus of the LCA work and the on-farm evaluation. Initial discussions have indicated that there are several innovations that could be analysed in a LCA study. Information is needed on the resource use associated with potential innovations (UNEW).

On-farm evaluation of proposed management systems

The market analysis was completed. Partners have been involved in discussions about data requirements for the forthcoming economic analysis of the global strategies to be studied (IRTA).

Evaluation of consumer and farmer attitudes

Preliminary discussions have been held over the design of the consumer study, particularly the choice experiment and explorations of consumer attitudes to innovations in livestock farming.

Dissemination, training and technology transfer (WP7)


  • The first Annual newsletter was uploaded on the website and disseminated to partners and stakeholders.
  • Partners have presented Feed-a-Gene and distributed brochures during congresses.
  • Information about Feed-a-Gene, or about research relevant to Feed-a-Gene activities has been posted on the website and on social media.
  • A Feed-a-Gene New Year card was sent to stakeholders in January 2017.

Feed-a-Gene New Year card 2017

Feed-a-Gene New Year Card 2017 (AFZ)

Stakeholder platform

  • The stakeholder platform is growing and 330 people have registered, either directly or through the WP6.
  • Feed-a-Gene was presented at the FEFAC annual meeting on 12 October 2016.

Dissemination of results

The following publications are now available in full or abstract form and have been uploaded on the website.

These abstracts were published in book form in April 2017 (available here).

In addition to these publications, 28 communications and 4 scientific papers have been submitted and will be presented or published in 2017.