Heat stress in sows – Better lactation performance with Anco FIT

Heat stress in sows can compromise lactation performance, as it generally reduces feed intake in sows. The gut agility activator Anco FIT was tested in sow feed for maintaining sow lactation performance despite heat stress during the summer months in Argentina.

Heat stress in sows

In sows, temperatures above 25c can cause heat stress. In lactating sows this is generally associated with reduced feed intake, resulting in reduced milk production, with the knock-on effect on piglet growth. The modern lactating sow is particularly at risk of heat stress, as it has been heavily selected for increased productivity including litter size and litter weaning weight, which comes with increased heat production.

Trial design

The trial was carried out on a commercial farm with 1500 sows in Cordoba, Argentina. The trial period was during the summer months in Argentina from February 29th to 9th of April. Temperatures ranged between 26 and 29C, with a humidity of around 75% and it was expected that sows were experiencing some degree of heat stress.

100 sows were split into 2 groups: 1) control group fed corn-soybean diet, specified to sow requirements in gestation and lactation 2) trial group fed the control diet supplemented with 1 kg of Anco FIT per ton of feed. The trial started two weeks before farrowing and ended with the weaning of pigs at 21 days of lactation.

Cross-fostering was performed within 24 h post-farrowing and litters of piglets were adjusted to 12-13 piglets within the same treatment. The average daily feed intake of the sows during lactation was recorded. Piglets received no creep feed during the lactation period.

Results

Sow feed intake in lactation was significantly increased in Anco FIT vs control sows (5.29kg/d vs 4.39 kg/d, P<0.01). Piglet mortality was significantly reduced in sows fed Anco FIT and litter weight gains significantly increased vs control (42.26kg vs 36.55kg, P<0.01).

Conclusion

Adding Anco FIT to sow diets at 1kg/t increased sow feed intake and lactation performance under summer heat stress in commercial sow farm conditions.

Related articles

Anco FIT product line now available in more than 30 countries

Heat stress in pigs – nutritional interventions that work

Don’t let summer heat stress spoil poultry appetite

Sow line differences in heat stress tolerance expressed in reproductive performance traits

Farm resilience starts in the bird – feed for adaptability

Farm resilience is emerging as a key success factor in times of great uncertainty. Farming deals with a lot of uncertainties and change at its best. However, adding factors like climate change, the Covid 19 crisis and rapid changes in consumer demand into the mix exacerbates the need for the capacity of farms to adsorb shocks and adapt to change quickly to survive economically in the long-term.

Farm resilience versus farm optimization

Resilience thinking highlights that in the long run for a farm to persevere optimising resource allocation under known conditions will not be enough. Resilience is a concept that acknowledges unpredictability and emphasizes the need to enable adaptability and transformability of systems instead of optimizing them.

A farm management approach based on resilience comes up with systems that can absorb and accommodate future events in whatever unexpected form they may come. It follows that resources are allocated to strategies that allow reducing the impact of a wide variety of potential unknown events and on identifying emergent opportunities. However, fewer resources are spent on improvements in efficiency.

A crisis, such as Covid 19, may be a trigger for transformational change, since it is more likely that new alternative organizational forms will be considered.

Feeding birds for resilience

In a poultry production system, farm resilience also depends on how well birds can cope with unforeseen challenges in their feed and the environment. This is because less resilient birds will have greater fluctuations in their performance leading to a decreased cost-effectiveness of poultry feeds and a lower likelihood of reaching performance targets. With poultry feed representing around 70% of the total cost of poultry production systems it also means more variability in farm profits. Lower resilience in birds can also lead to increased susceptibility of disease which can cause further losses in the long run.

Research has shown that certain feed supplements can play a role in management strategies designed to reduce the impact of stressors on poultry well-being and performance. The gut agility activator Anco FIT Poultry was proven to improve the capacity of broilers and laying hens to cope with stressors under commercial conditions and enhance the birds endogenous defense mechanisms to buffer stress reactions on the cellular level more efficiently in a research environment.

More resilience means less need for antibiotics

Feeding birds for adaptability to increase resilience can also help to reduce the need for antibiotics. Minimizing stress reactions, such as reduced gut integrity and oxidative stress, by nutritional means also helps to reduce the susceptibility of birds to disease that may otherwise require the need for treatments with antibiotics or the use of antibiotic growth promotors in the feed.

Relevant articles

Priming the poultry gut to deal with stressors 

Why the CAP should widen its approach to resilience 

Resilience and why it matters for farm management 

Experience with Anco FIT Poultry is growing globally 

Heat stress in pigs – nutritional interventions that work

Heat stress in pigs puts an economic strain on pig production in many countries of the world and the current climate changes have increased the prevalence and intensity of heat stress. Nutritional interventions supporting resilience mechanisms represent a practical, adaptable and cost-effective strategy to mitigate the negative effects of heat stress and improve animal productivity.

Economic losses from heat stress in pigs

Compared to other animals, pigs are more sensitive to heat stress due to their high metabolic heat production, quick fat deposition, and lack of sweat glands. Heat stress-induced economic losses result from reduced and inconsistent growth, poor sow performance and increased mortality and morbidity. In the US alone heat stress is costing pig farmers around $50 to $60 per pig each year. Regions around the world most affected by climate change are likely to see an increase in the detrimental effects of heat stress on animal production and welfare in the future. On top of that genetic selection for increased litter size and leaner phenotypes leads to an increase in thermal sensitivity in pigs, due to increased basal heat production.

Summer heat stress in sows

Sows suffer from heat stress in environmental temperatures above 25°C. Heat stress in sows has been shown to reduce feed intake, from 655 g/day to more than 2 kg per day, with subsequent negative consequences for reproduction, milk production and piglet growth. If the sow is maintained under heat stress conditions for a long period, there is a risk that the animal will overheat, which can lead to death via hyperthermia. In countries with tropical conditions such as Brazil this is very common. According to researchers in Brazil, lactating sows of some genetic lines can have up to 15% mortality during Brazilian summers due to heat stress conditions. In gestating sows there is some evidence that heat stress during pregnancy can have in utero negative effects on the offspring’s thermoregulatory capabilities.

Heat stress in fattening pigs

Research has shown that it only takes 2-6 hours of heat stress (37C and 40% humidity) to compromise feed intake and intestinal integrity in growing pigs. Studies in finishing pigs have also shown oxidative stress in the liver in response to chronic heat stress at 30 °C. The drop in feed intake in response to heat stress increases as the body weight increases in pigs. Pigs of 60-100kg raised in Brazil during the summer months have been reported to have a reduction in growth rates of around 15% compared to pigs raised during the winter.

Management interventions for heat stress in pigs

Flexible, affordable management approaches to immediately decrease heat stress susceptibility without negatively influencing traditional production traits are of great value to pig production. However, the input cost for optimal cooling technology is very costly and often too expensive for smaller producers.

Dietary supplementation and modifications are less costly easily adjustable tactics and are suitable for all production systems.

Nutrition
• Consider the thermal effect of feed and reduce fibres and crude proteins, which generate a lot of heat.
• Increase the fat content of the diet
• Feed pigs during the cooler hours of the day
• Provide pigs with unlimited access to cool and fresh drinking water
• Adapt vitamin, mineral and amino acid levels in feed to the pig requirements under heat stress

Supporting resilience mechanisms by nutritional means

Research increasing the understanding of the molecular mechanisms involved in heat stress induced inflammation and intestinal barrier disruption paves the way to nutritional strategies to preserve the physiological performance of the gut. Many of the negative consequences that heat stress has on pig health and productivity are mediated by reduced intestinal barrier integrity, which is followed by inflammatory responses.

At the cellular level, hyperthermia leads to disruption of intestinal epithelial integrity, by affecting tight junctions. Damage to tight junctions facilitates the transfer of toxins and pathogens from the gut through the epithelial barrier, contributing to an exaggeration of inflammatory responses, which can further worsen the intestinal damage. Hyperthermia provokes the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, it can also directly impair the antioxidant defence system of the animal, which eventually leads to oxidative stress and intracellular damage. Studies in growing pigs have shown an inverse relationship between oxidative status and growth performance, whereby pigs with a higher oxidative stress status had poorer performance.

Nutritional solutions which have the capacity to preserve cellular homeostasis by enhancing cellular defense systems, thereby reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, as well as maintain intestinal integrity are considered to be able to help protect animals against the adverse effects of heat stress.

Gut agility activators are feed supplements that were specifically formulated to enhance the resilience of animals, by supporting cellular defense systems and enabling more efficient responses to stressors including heat stress thus mitigating the impact on performance.

Sow trial with Anco FIT during summer months

A recent sow lactation trial carried out in the summer months in Argentina, showed increased feed intake (21%) and improved lactation performance in sows fed the gut agility activator Anco FIT compared to sows on a control diet.

Relevant publications

Don’t let summer heat stress spoil poultry appetite

Short-term exposure to heat stress attenuates appetite and intestinal integrity in growing pigs

Lactation in the sow during heat stress 

Beyond Heat Stress: Intestinal Integrity Disruption and Mechanism-Based Intervention Strategies

How some cows can give heat stress the cold shoulder

Don’t let summer heat stress spoil poultry appetite

Summer is just around the corner and it is time to prepare strategies to manage the impact of summer heat stress on poultry production efficiency.

Effect of heat stress on feed intake in poultry

Modern poultry is particularly sensitive to temperature-associated environmental challenges, due to their metabolic activity. Decreased feed intake in response to heat stress is the starting point for decreased body weight gain, feed efficiency, egg production and quality. Research has shown that a 12-day heat stress period in laying hens decreases feed intake by 29 g/bird, resulting in a 28.8% decrease in egg production. Others reported that for every 1◦C increase in temperature between 21◦C and 30◦C, appetite decreases by 1.5%, and for every 1◦C increase in temperature between 32◦C and 38◦C, the reduction is about 4.6% in laying hens. Studies in broilers have shown that birds reared in temperatures between (35 and 38 C) had significantly lower feed intakes and growth rates compared to birds reared in optimal temperatures.

Underlying mechanisms

There is general agreement that gut peptide hormones like Cholecystokinin (CCK) and Ghrelin have a role to play in appetite regulation in chicken. However, the role of these gut peptides in appetite regulation is not fully understood for poultry yet and there is some controversy around how their physiological roles may differ between birds and other vertebrates.

There is little information available on the underlying mechanisms for a reduction in feed intake in response to heat stress in poultry. One study investigating the effect of heat exposure on gene expression of various appetite regulating peptides in laying hens reported an upregulation of ghrelin mRNA in the hypothalamus as well as in the glandular stomach and jejunum. Suggesting that one of the pathways for the negative impact on feed intake of high ambient temperature in laying hens might be mediated by its effects on the hypothalamic and gastrointestinal ghrelin signals.

Supporting feed intake under summer heat stress

New nutritional concepts, such as gut agility activators, are designed to support the adaptive capacity and hence resilience of the bird by nutritional means. They help the bird to adapt to stressors by minimizing stress reactions including reduced feed intake. The gut agility activator Anco FIT Poultry has been shown to maintain higher feed intakes in broilers and layers compared to control animals in commercial conditions under summer heat stress. This was associated with higher weight gains and end weights

Relevant articles

#Heatawarenessday – Are your birds prepared?

Feeding cows for adaptive capacity in the transition period

The adaptive capacity of the cow determines transition success. When dairy cows fail to adapt physiologically to the demands of calving and the onset of milk production, the resulting metabolic stress leads to transition cow disorders with negative consequences for milk production, reproduction efficiency and longevity. The high prevalence of metabolic disorders and production disease around calving highlight the fact that many farm systems do not provide adequate solutions and are overstretching the adaptation capacity of their cows. Understanding the underlying mechanisms and factors exacerbating metabolic stress during transition can help to find nutritional solutions that enhance the adaptive capacity in transition dairy cows.

Transition failures

The transition period is a demanding time for dairy cows and around 30% to 50% of dairy cows are affected by some form of metabolic or infectious disease, around the time of calving. This includes milk fever ketosis, retained placenta and mastitis. A declining availability of qualified dairy staff is likely to exacerbate this, as it means that cows are receiving less individual attention to identify and respond to health issues. When disorders occur, it is a demonstration that cows have difficulties in coping with external and internal conditions, endangering their own capacity to survive. It shows that the cows are failing to adapt to changes, stressors and gaps between nutrient supply and demand.

During the transition period dairy cows must adjust metabolically to a dramatic increase in energy and nutrient requirements needed for foetal growth and onset of milk production, exceeding the amount of energy the cow receives from dietary sources. This makes the cow susceptible to a negative energy balance. A negative energy balance initiates lipid mobilization, which again leads to high concentrations of non-esterified fatty acids (NEFAs). Metabolism of large amounts of NEFAs to ketone bodies induces an increased production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which can eventually lead to oxidative stress in the liver of dairy cows.

Increased oxidative stress in dairy cows is recognized as an underlying factor of dysfunctional inflammatory responses and it has been linked to the occurrence of transition disorders. Oxidative stress in the liver is known to cause inflammatory damage of the liver, which impairs the metabolic function of liver cells and promotes the development of ketosis. In the mammary gland it has been associated with increased somatic cell counts in milk and the incidence of mastitis. Overall, these findings lead to the assumption that the underlying mechanisms that exacerbate metabolic stress and cause health disorders in transition dairy cows are combined effects of altered nutrient metabolism, oxidative stress and dysfunctional inflammatory responses.

Transition success

Successful adaptation avoids metabolic disorders in the transition period. Overall dairy cows are more likely to succeed in adaptation in the transition period when the gap between nutrient demands and supply is limited. However, there are also indications in the literature that even when cows had comparable energy balance, there is considerable individual variation of the adaptive ability of cows during early lactation based on metabolic and endocrine variables. Therefore, another approach is to find ways to support the cow in her ability to cope with nutritional and metabolic challenges, which would actually help the cow’s adaptability for transition success.

This amongst other things requires the identification of relevant markers that enable the measurement of achieving improved adaptability. One obvious marker for oxidative stress is the level of reactive oxygen species (ROS). However, more recent research suggests that the oxidative stress index (OSi) predicts oxidative status more accurately. The OSi is the ratio between ROS and serum antioxidant capacity.  The researh shows that the OSi is significantly increased in dairy cows around calving, compared to levels at dry-off and at 30 days post calving. So one way of identifying improved adaptive capacity of cows in the transition period could be to measure the oxidative stress index in response to nutritional interventions.

Nutritional support for adaptive capacity

Researchers report that genetic selection for increased milk yield has decreased the adaptability of modern dairy cows. However, a better understanding of the underlying mechanisms for adaptability in dairy cows is helping the development of nutritional solutions to enhance the cow’s ability to cope more efficiently with nutritional and metabolic challenges.

For instance feeding plant extracts with high antioxidative powers can help to increase the level of antioxidative enzymes and antioxidants to support the cow’s own antioxidative defense in the liver. Feeding those type of components can give the liver a better chance of fighting ROS produced in the transition period and thus minimize the negative consequences from oxidative stress on liver function. A large part of the capacity of the adaptation of ruminants to dietary challenges is allowed by the rumen, so feed supplements designed to help maintain rumen efficiency are also going to ease the transition to lactation. However, attempts to reduce the prevalence of metabolic disorders and associated production diseases should rely on continuous and comprehensive monitoring with appropriate indicators on the farm level.

Published in International Dairy Topics by Gwendolyn Jones

Relevant articles

Dairy farming resilience – 3 reasons to keep your cows agile

Labour shortage drives the need for cow resilience

Covid 19 – A Litmus test for agility in agriculture

Businesses that did not understand why agility matters to business success are waking up to just how much it matters in the face of the Covid 19 crisis. This is true for any industry including agriculture.

How do you respond to Covid 19?

Remember what happened to the Titanic in the face of an iceberg? Businesses, industries, governments and individuals all over the world are now tested for how quickly they can adapt to a major disruption and spot the opportunities. Everybody is faced with the same question, “How do we respond to Covid 19?” Individual response and the speed of it will matter to the health and economic outcome of the crisis for each of us, businesses, industries and nations all the same. Nature created the perfect storm to test personal agility levels and those of businesses.

“It is not the strongest that survive – it is the most adaptable to change”- – Charles Darwin

Organizational agility or business agility

Business agility, also known as organizational agility, is the capability of a business to be adaptive and flexible through a changing environment and to overcome challenges as they surface with minimal impact to the business. Times of crisis tells businesses just how agile they are. As change is happening so fast, companies need to be able to do these things very quickly to optimize operations for peak performance, exploit opportunities and mitigate risks. Agility is all about how we as individuals and organizations respond to challenges and at what speed, which will ultimately determine the impact the challenge will have on us and on organizations.

“Research shows that in a volatile and uncertain world agility separates the best from the rest.” – Krupp (2020)

In the current crisis leaders must be highly agile to break free of old mental models and politics or business as usual. They need to be able to learn and adapt fast.  Agile leaders demonstrate four skills in times of crisis: adaptability, resilience, learning, and foresight:

Adaptability – Shifting priorities quickly due to rapidly changing external and internal dynamics
Resilience: Bouncing back from setbacks and failure
Learning: Testing assumptions, failing fast, and continuously iterating in real time
Foresight: Anticipating and being prepared to pivot with market changes

Agility and adaptability are critical to farming

Farming deals with a lot of uncertainties and changes at its best. Therefore, successful farming relies on the producer’s or farmer’s capacity to respond to changing markets, environmental conditions and consumer preferences. So, the future of farming lies in an agile production system and this has only been exacerbated by the Covid 19 crisis. The most sustainable thing to do is focus on those things over which a farm has direct control. Of those the most critical is agility, which enables the producer to continuously adjust what he does to take advantage of external factors or at least reduce the potential negative impact on the business.

Our food production system needs resilience in the face of a volatile trade environment and climate change. Again, this is why speed is of the essence and agility matters in agriculture.

Relevant articles

From Blame to gain: Leading with agility in a crisis 
Dairy farming resilience – 3 reasons to keep your cows agile
Keep agile keep farming podcast 
Gut agility activator – Anco FIT product line

How are egg prices and egg producers responding to Covid 19

Egg prices increased dramatically as consumers started to change their behaviour and habits with the Covid 19 outbreak.

Consumers had been stockpiling basic food items including milk, eggs and bread to prepare for potential quarantines. But as lockdowns were introduced and people had to stay at home actual consumption increased. People are no longer eating out, so the demand for eggs is shifting from the foodservice sector to the retail channel, as consumers are cooking more meals at home. There is also an increase in home-baking activities as some are taking to stress-baking to cope with isolation and others bake to keep their kids entertained and combat boredom. Egg consumption also increased to replace more expensive forms of protein in households that are seeing a decline in their income as a result of Covid 19 job losses.

As a result retail stores are struggling to meet the demand and then there is Easter just around the corner. On top of concerns for not being able to meet demand the poultry industry in the US is concerned that the ongoing labour shortage could be exacerbated due to the impact of the Covid 19 crisis.

How are egg producers responding

Egg producers are uncertain of how long the impact of the virus on the egg market will last, so are unlikely to increase the number of hens in response to the increased demand for eggs caused by Covid 19. However, some egg producers aim to keep hens longer than they normally would to boost the number of eggs produced and meet demand. They are converting food service lines into retail where possible to meet the changing consumer demand.

Like in many other industries Covid 19 may also be a catalyst to digitization of operations, meaning that egg producers could adopt AI and IoT based solutions faster than they would otherwise.

This could include tools that enable farm managers to share data within the production team, while reducing the amount of time needed to be spent in face-to-face interactions, which can help make better decisions faster but also reduce the risk of spreading the virus. AI in the form of robots, which reduce floor egg incidence and the need for human intervention. IoT devices and species specific sensors for the poultry house can be used to capture data on bird weight, light levels, temperature, water usage, ammonia levels, which not only allows real-time observation at all times to manage chicken houses remotely, but also provides the opportunity for predictive modelling. For example it allows producers to predict when pullets reach their target weight and help farmers make corrections in management as needed.

Advantage of resilience in laying hens

Resilience in animals has been defined as the capacity of an animal to be minimally affected by disturbances or to rapidly return to the state pertained before exposure to a disturbance. Breeding for resilience in laying hen is being proposed as a strategy to obtain trouble-free hens which are easy-to-manage and enjoy greater health. This again would mean less need for human interventions, with less fluctuations in hen performance and greater laying persistence in the flock. So more resilient laying hens would also mean an advantage to cope with some of the challenges on managing flocks imposed by Covid 19. There is also the possibility to support resilience in laying hens by nutritional means and feeding for adaptive capacity.

Related articles

Resilience – economic value in animal production

 

Stay at home and manage pig health remotely

Staying at home to work is the new norm in many countries right now. But how can you manage pig health and care for pigs, when you have to stay at home? The good news is there is a solution available that enables pork producers and swine veterinarians to recognize and respond to pig health issues remotely and in real-time.

Tune in to the second episode of the Keep Agile Keep Farming Podcast and listen to the chat with the founder and CEO of the company who developed this solution.

One important ability for pig producers to keep agile is being able to identify and respond to health issues quickly to save profits and pigs’ lives. Chris Bomgaars, who grew up pig farming in Iowa, is now the CEO of EveryPig, who developed a platform for pig producers and veterinarians, which enables them to share information in real time and work together as a team even on a remote basis.

“Pig farming in Iowa inspired me to find solutions for recognizing and responding to pig health issues faster” – Chris Bomgaars

With the help of the app pig producers can digitize daily pig records on their smart phones and upload them to the EveryPig telehealth platform within seconds, where others of their pig production team have immediate access to the data and can also comment on actions to take. On top of that it allows for images to be shared that veterinarians can then use to diagnose health problems without having to set foot onto the farm.

In times of African Swine Fever virus and a Corona virus pandemic this is a much welcomed tool in the pig industry, because there is one thing that these two health threats have in common: containment is a key measure to prevent the spread of the viruses. Plus preventing the spread of the viruses is crucial because there is no vaccine or treatment available for either of them to date.

The control and eradication of African Swine Fever in pig production still relies on rapid detection in the field followed by the application of strict sanitary measures. It also requires the containment of pigs to not allow contact with pigs from other farms and no contact between farm staff and external pigs.

Currently the Coronavirus Covid 19 enforces very similar measures on humans all over the world, making stay at home, self-isolation and working from home the new norm.

As a result there is now a growing need in both pig production and human health care for telemedicine. In other words we need to be able to care for pigs and humans remotely to help reduce the spread of the viruses. The EveryPig platform is enabling telehealth for pigs, where swine veterinarians can identify and respond to pig health issues remotely.

Imagine helping to save pigs’ and human lives from your home office and work more efficiently as a team. It is all possible now. Stay home, stay safe and most of all stay connected to kill two viruses with one stone.

Relevant links

Watch the trailer video to the Keep Agile Keep Farming Episode 2 here.

Relevant measures to prevent the Spread of African Swine Fever in the European Union Domestic Pig Sector

Women in agriculture – what they bring to the table

Most women in agriculture do not inherit farms. This means that for most female farmers out there, farming is a choice they make and they go all in. Even though the industry can obviously greatly benefit from this, in many cases it has gone largely unrecognized right up until quite recently.

by Gwendolyn Jones
Today is the day to recognize the contributions and achievements of women in agriculture, working as farmers, veterinarians, agronomists and many more different roles supporting the agricultural industry bringing food onto our tables. As mentioned at the end of this article, farming has been identified as a critical area to achieve gender equality, because it has been proven that it will help to significantly reduce the number of hungry people in the world.

I am a female marketer and free-lance journalist working in agriculture and have been studying the female farmer in the past few months. To me it was an incredibly eye-opening and inspiring journey reading and hearing amazing stories, which I now realize more and more people around the world are starting to wake up to. Of course if you are studying the female farmer, you will also learn a lot more about the male farmer, because in many cases they will work together as a great team. However, since it is international women’s month, for this article I am focusing on developments regarding the female farmer and what she quite literally brings to the table.

Female farmers are on the rise

Agricultural powerhouses such as the US and Brazil are seeing a rise in the number of women managing farms. In 2019 Brazil reported a record of 31% of farms were managed by women, which was 3x as much compared to figures in 2013, based on facts from the Brazil’s Agribusiness Association. In the United States the proportion of farms with women as principal operators grew from 14 percent of farms in 2012 to 29% in 2017.

This comes on the back of changes made to reporting in the 2017 US census of agriculture that better reflect who serves in principal roles on an operation, but the reported increase in female farmers is not just related to that. The USDA defines the principal producer as the person who runs the farm and makes the day-to-day management decisions. However not calling themselves the principal producer does not mean that women are not involved in the day-to-day decision making on farms.

The 2017 census in the US further revealed that 36% of the 3.4million US producers were women (an increase of 27% over the number counted in 2012) and 78 percent of all female producers, stated they were involved in the day-to-day decisions of the operation. With 59% of women being involved in decision making regarding crops, and 55% of women being involved in livestock decisions.

In the EU the proportion of women managing farms in the EU was 28% according to a report from last year and Eurostats data shows there has indeed been an increase in female farm managers in the EU in the past decade, albeit the increase is smaller compared to what is seen in Brazil and the United States. Austria is in the top 6 leading countries in the EU regarding the proportion of female farm managers in the country and reported 31%. Lithuania and Latvia have the highest proportion female farm managers with 45%.

The UK currently has its first female president of the National Farmer’s Union of England and Wales in its 110 years of history. According to the 2018-19 UK Office for National Statistics annual population survey the number of female farmers in the UK has now reached a figure of 17% as a proportion of all farmers in the UK and figures are showing that there are more female farm managers and owners than before. A recent survey carried out in women working and living on farms in Scotland revealed that over half of the respondents have a role in both day to day decision -making and major decisions on their farms.

In low income countries agriculture remains the most important employment sector for women, where 40% of women or more are working in agriculture. However in those countries women have significantly less ownership or control over farms compared to their male counter parts and compared to women in other parts of the world.

Passionate about the food they bring to the table

Thanks to farmers all around the world, we have food on our tables every day. The cultural practice of passing on large farms intact to one son, which still prevails in most countries, is the biggest barrier to women’s entry to farming and means most women in farming did not inherit farms. For example research in Iowa, which is the most important state for agriculture in the US, showed that the majority of farmland owned by women was purchased (69 percent) rather than inherited (27 percent). According to this research, the motivations for women were: farming was a personal aspiration, they had dreamed of farming for many years and wanted to be in control of their operations.

So what distinguishes many female farmers from male farmers is that farming is not something that was passed down to them for generations. For many female farmers it was a choice they made, something they had to earn before they could start making a difference. But they are living their dream. The result is an incredible amount of passion going into food production coming from women. Women being passionate not only about nourishing their own families in a healthy way, but also their communities and the world. They also actively share their passion on social media. The 2019 US Women in Ag survey showed that 95% of women out of the 3000 respondents from the US frequently advocate for the agricultural industry and similar trends can be seen in other countries.

Women in agriculture thrive on 3 big C’s

What women in agriculture seem to have in common throughout different countries is an enormous willingness not only to communicate, but also to connect and collaborate. They connect on social media, women conferences and networks to offer each other emotional support, share information and experiences.

Last year I was at such an event myself for the first time. I found the Women in Food and Agriculture event (#WFA19), bringing women in agriculture from different parts of the world together very inspiring and empowering. It certainly created a feeling of togetherness and to tackle today’s and tomorrow’s challenges for agriculture you cannot have enough collaboration in my opinion. In women’s agricultural networks women are also redefining and expanding the definition of what it means to be a farmer.

A fresh perspective can make a big difference in farming

As women in agriculture often do not have a farming background they can bring a fresh perspective. Women marrying into farming can bring useful off-farm skills to farming, which can help to diversify the business or enhance the financial resilience of it. Due to prevailing social customs and traditional stereotypes the majority of women do not inherit farms, which means they are much less likely to fall into the trap of the attitude “why change, it’s always been that way” and as a result are more likely to be open to try out new things when they work on farms. Consequently women can also be catalysts for change.

Female farmers have a drive to diversify farms

Reports both in the US and in the UK reveal that farm diversification is a very female-led domain. Research suggests that women in US agriculture are more likely to be found in farm operations that add value to agriculture. Value-added agriculture is generally referred to as the process of differentiating the raw agriculture product or commodity, it can also be related to farm tourism.

Level of education

To be able to succeed in agriculture you need to be smart. It is therefore not surprising that according to the latest US census of agriculture 69% of the surveyed young farmers had college degrees – which is significantly higher than the proportion in the general US population.

A study conducted by the Food and Agricultural Education Information System in the US showed that undergraduate women enrolled in agriculture programs outnumbered undergraduate men by 2900 students in 2011. In 2017 Texas A&M University – College Station, the University with the most students in agriculture and most courses on offer in agriculture in the US had a higher number of female graduates than male graduates (693 female degrees vs 507 male degrees)

In the UK, there are now more female students in agriculture and related higher education courses than male students. In 2018, 64% of the students in this field were female according to the UK Education Statistics Agency.

In Brazil Universities such as the Federal University of Paraná in Curitiba 47% of the students that started the agronomical engineering undergraduate program in 2020 are female, which is a large increase compared to the proportion of female students for this subject a decade ago.

So the trend in some of the leading agricultural economies is for more and more women to complete agricultural degrees, meaning women coming to work in agriculture in those countries are often highly educated in agriculture related subjects.

They don’t just become part of farming, but are also infiltrating the companies serving farmers, for example to supply veterinary services, animal nutrition and crop consulting to farms. Others go to work in research contributing to progress the science in agriculture to find new solutions for more sustainable farming practices.

The future for women in agriculture

As agriculture is evolving and becoming less dependent on heavy labour the potential contribution women can make to agriculture is increasing and so are the opportunities for them. At the same time leading companies in the US agriculture sector are starting to announce, their initiatives to encourage and support female leadership roles in their ranks, which was previously unheard of. There are still many barriers to women in agriculture, however the good news is there are indications for a shift towards a more inclusive future in agriculture in important markets for agriculture, which will hopefully also spread to other countries around the world.

#EachforEqual

The theme of this year’s international women’s day is “Each for Equal” to help promote a gender equal world for a more enabled world. There is still a long way to go to ZERO hunger in the world. Today there are something like 800 million people going hungry plus the world population is growing rapidly and an extra 2 billion people are expected to be part of the global population by 2050.

Fact is that if women farmers had the same access to resources as men, the number of hungry people in the world could be reduced considerably and we would be one step closer to global food security.

So for more progressive agriculture, which is able to meet challenges for global food security, it is important to recognize women’s achievements in agriculture and increase the visibility of the female farmer to counter gender bias and stereotypes, which are harming both women and men.

Relevant articles

Behind every healthy animal is a strong farmer
Sustainable development goals – Goal 2: Zero Hunger 
International Women’s Day 2020 campaign theme is #EachforEqual

Early laying period- off to a good start in laying hens

The early laying period plays an important role in how a flock will perform and how long laying hens can be kept in production. So, getting hens off to a good start in lay is key to feeding strategies aimed at extending laying cycles. Feeding for adaptive capacity can be a great facilitator to give your laying hens a head-start in the pre-peak phase.

500 eggs in one laying cycle is within reach

Prolonging the laying cycle balances the costs of egg production (e.g. price of pullets and feed) by the earnings of a longer productive period. On top of that it reduces the frequency required to replace hens and to clean houses. As a result of that producers are now aiming to extend the laying period beyond 72 weeks of age. But it is not just to improve the economics of production, it also makes sense in terms of reducing the environmental impact of egg production for more sustainable egg production. Some breeding companies are already reporting flocks with egg production cycles of 100 weeks producing more than 500 eggs. Schothorst Feed Research reported that a flock of Dekalb White hens produced 510 eggs per hen in 100 weeks in October last year. While improved genetics facilitate such ambitious goals, it goes without saying that the right management and nutrition play an important supporting role in this too.

Importance of pre-peak challenges for extended laying periods

The pre-peak period of the laying cycle lasts from the time when hens arrive at the production house (15-18 weeks of age) until the age the laying hens reach peak egg production (24-26 weeks of age). This is a very challenging period for the hens, because they are still growing while they are starting to produce eggs. On top of that the hens are going through many other changes as they transition from rearing pullet to production. This means that they have to adapt to new environments, diets, different lighting as well as having to go through the stresses of transportation. This can result in negative nutrient balances, which can affect performance but can also have longer-term effects for health and laying persistency if it negatively affects bone and liver metabolism. For example mobilization of calcium for eggshell formation from bone can lead to a reduction in skeletal mass of the hen and will reduce shell quality late in late lay. Increasing free radical production in the liver can eventually lead to fatty liver as a result of prolonged oxidative stress, which again can impair egg production and laying persistence. Missed targets in the rearing phase such as target body weight and high uniformity or stressors such as high temperatures and mycotoxins can amplify potential problems.

Feeding for adaptive capacity of hens in the early laying period

To get the laying hens off to a good start at the beginning of the laying period and to correct the effects of suboptimal rearing, nutrient intake should be maximised to prevent the mobilisation of body nutrient reserves at the start of the lay period. This also means that any impact environmental or nutritional stress factors may have on feed intake needs to be minimized. Stress reactions such as oxidative stress, reduced gut integrity and inflammatory responses can all contribute to negatively impact the resilience of the laying hen and can thus further diminish the chances for producers to successfully extend the laying period. For example high gut integrity in the duodenum is crucial to maintaining egg shell quality in longer laying cycles as it is the main site for absorption of Ca and P. Oxidative stress will affect the functioning of the liver and hence the ability to maintain high egg laying rates and egg quality over time. It can also lead to inflammatory responses which can affect energy efficiency of the laying hen.

The gut agility concept in Anco FIT Poultry was specifically developed to increase the capacity of the bird to adapt to challenges more efficiently and to reduces stress reactions that would otherwise reduce the hens performance and potential to sustain longer laying cycles.

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References
Schothorst Feed Research achieves 510,7 eggs

500 eggs in 100 weeks