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

Periodic Reporting for period 4 - Feed-a-Gene (Adapting the feed, the animal and the feeding techniques to improve the efficiency and sustainability of monogastric livestock production systems)

Reporting period: 2019-03-01 to 2020-02-29

Feed-a-Gene aims to better adapt the components of pig, poultry, and rabbit production systems to improve the overall efficiency and reduce the environmental impact. This involves the development of new and alternative feed resources and feed technologies, the identification and selection of robust animals that are better adapted to fluctuating conditions, and the development of feeding techniques that allow optimizing the potential of the feed and the animal.
To reach this overall objective, the project will:
- Develop feed technologies to make better use of locally produced feed resources.
- Develop methods for the rapid characterization of the nutritional value of feeds.
- Develop new traits of feed efficiency and robustness allowing to identify variation among individual animals for use in breeding strategies.
- Develop new management systems for precision feeding.
- Develop biological models to better understand and predict the nutrient and energy utilization of animals.
- Evaluate the overall sustainability of the new management systems developed by the project.
- Demonstrate the innovative technologies developed by the project in collaboration with the feed industry, breeding companies, equipment manufacturers, and farmers’ organisations to promote the practical implementation of project results.
- Disseminate new technologies that will increase the efficiency of animal production systems, whilst maintaining product quality and animal welfare and enhance EU food security.
European-grown soybeans have been processed by novel technologies and their use in pigs and poultry showed similar results as using commercial soybean meal. Fractionation of rapeseed meal (RSM) into a fine and coarse fraction demonstrated superior pig performance and digestibility of the fine fraction compared with commercial RSM. Proteins extracted from green biomass were inferior to conventional protein sources and the remaining pulp after extraction of the protein is not well suited as rabbit feed. However, improvements in the harvest and precipitation procedures have improved the protein content of the concentrate. The digestibility and metabolizable energy content of individual feed ingredients and mixed diets can be predicted by NIRS with a relatively high precision.
Prototypes of equipment to measure individual feed intake in group-housed broilers and rabbits were developed and used to study variation in feed intake among animals. The variation in composition of the intestinal and faecal microbiota in pigs, rabbits, and poultry as affected by diet composition and genotype, and their relationships with nutrient digestion and feed efficiency have been established.
Promising breeding traits (e.g. based on digestive efficiency, gut microbiota composition, robustness and social interactions) have been evaluated in relation to feed efficiency. The advantage of using these traits for selection, in combination with genomic and crossbred information, was evaluated. Demonstration of the potential of some of the indicators was conducted in pigs and rabbits.
New systems for precision feeding system for growing pigs, sows, and poultry have been developed using a modular design. The components of the system (i.e. a decision support system, precision feeding devices, and an electronic controller) have been fully integrated to compose a complete precision feeding system to work on-farm. For growing pigs, sets of pre-industrial precision feeding systems have been manufactured and installed for validation and demonstration activities.
Different conceptual models for pigs and poultry were developed to simulate feed use mechanisms, such as digestion and metabolic utilization. A perturbation model was developed to quantify robustness traits of an animal, while a stochastic module was developed to quantify variation in traits among individual animals within a herd. These models have been integrated in the FeedUtiliGene software that facilitates the understanding of the different models and allows their direct use. The tool can help in making decisions on genetic selection, feeding strategies, and management of the herd.
Life Cycle Assessment and Cost Benefit Analysis were used to assess the environmental and economic impacts of the different solutions proposed by the project. Surveys investigated consumer and farmer attitudes to measures that can improve the sustainability of livestock production. Data from these exercises were used to construct a composite index to explore the relative sustainability of feeding solutions for pigs and poultry.
Project communication and dissemination was carried out through the project website, brochures, 5 newsletters, videos (53), social media posts, and scientific publications (39 peer-reviewed papers and 212 communications). Seven demonstration events, 7 stakeholder workshops, and a final stakeholder meeting were organized.
Feed-a-Gene combined aspects related to the diet, the animal, and their interactions to increase feed efficiency and robustness of pig, poultry and rabbit production systems. Combinations of feed technologies were developed that improve the nutritional values of European-grown soybean meal, rapeseed meal, and protein from green biomass. These feed resources and technologies favour the protein autonomy and make Europe a front-runner in using feed resources that are not or less in competition with other uses.
Indicators of feed efficiency, animal robustness, and welfare were developed and evaluated. These indicators allow to study the nature of variation among animals to develop novel traits that can be used in breeding strategies and in on-farm (feeding) management practices. For pig, poultry, and rabbits, promising solutions were identified that allow to increase genetic gain or reduce phenotyping costs. Digestibility, composition and function of gut microbiota, and biomarkers appear to be promising tools for genetic selection.
Precision feeding is based on the real-time monitoring of performance traits to ensure an optimal nutrient supply to individual or groups of animals. This contributes to improve feed efficiency, and reduce feed cost, nutrient excretion, and the associated environmental impact.
Different animal models were developed to represent the functioning of the underlying biological mechanisms, including the sources of variation. A unique software platform was developed that integrated these models, facilitating their use by end-users.
Different solutions proposed by Feed-a-Gene were assessed with sustainability indicators using life-cycle analysis and opinions from different experts and stakeholders. Analytical techniques allowed identifying a gap between consumers’ expectations and perception of animal production. These unique insights into the preferences and attitudes of consumers help assessing the innovative potential of the proposed solutions and will help in shaping a better livestock production sector in the future by better addressing consumer’s expectations in future research projects.