Managing oxidative stress in sows for better returns

Increased oxidative stress can quietly eat away at returns in sow production, as it is a factor that impairs milk production, reproductive performance and longevity of the sow. Indirectly it will also negatively impact the health and growth of nursing piglets. The problem gets exacerbated in hyper-prolific sows and by challenges such as heat, mycotoxins and obesity. The ability to measure oxidative stress efficiently and knowing how to develop effective strategies to help prevent excessive oxidative stress in sows will go a long way towards supporting high returns on sow farms.

Oxidative stress explained

Oxidative stress describes an imbalance between the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the pig and the ability of the pig’s antioxidant defense mechanisms to neutralize them. Accumulation of ROS results in oxidative damage to lipids, proteins and DNA in cells and consequently tissue damage. It can also induce damage in the intestinal tissue, compromise gut integrity in pigs and leads to an increase in inflammatory responses. Therefore, oxidative stress has been associated with impaired health status and reduced energy available for productive purposes. For instance, under oxidative stress and inflammation 30% of the performance drop is explained by the catabolism and feed conversion needed to manage inflammation.

When are sows most vulnerable to oxidative stress?

The findings of previous studies showed that oxidative stress levels increased during late gestation and lactation. This was associated with sows being under severe catabolic status during late ges­tation and lactation. Catabolic conditions increase the production of reactive oxygen species. Lymphocyte DNA damage was significantly increased during late gestation compared to day 30 of pregnancy. Changes in concentrations of lipid and protein peroxidation products indicate, that during the periparturient period, especially around farrowing and the first week of lactation, the oxidative/antioxidative balance is disturbed, which leads to oxidative stress. Extended catabolic condition during lactation can be a cause of further oxidative stress negatively affecting productivity and longevity of sows.

Factors increasing oxidative stress

External factors such as environmental stressors and social stress can lead to increased oxidative stress in sows. Studies have reported that sows showed increased oxidative stress by increased lipid peroxidation, protein oxidation and oxidative DNA damage in a hot environment under heat stress, compared with sows in a thermal neutral environment. Oxidative stress indicators in the hot environment were negatively correlated with number of piglets at birth and weaning, as well as litter weight gain. Reduced litter size of sows under heat stress could be due to increased oxidative stress during the period of embryonic implantation causing increased embryonic death. Feed quality is another important factor affecting levels of oxidative stress. For example, mycotoxins can play a role even at low to moderate levels of contamination. A factor that is less well known is sow body condition. Recent studies have shown that higher backfat thickness in sows is associated with enhanced oxidative stress, increased expression of pro-inflammatory cytokines and inhibited a healthy placenta development relative to sows with moderate backfat thickness. Levels of ROS and malondialdehyde (MDA), a lipid peroxidation marker, were increased in the placenta of sows with increased backfat thickness . This may also affect fetal development, as lipid oxidation can influence placental development, lipid metabolism and transport. The above stresses the importance of closely controlling body condition in sows.

Advances in measuring oxidative stress

The intensity of oxidative stress can be monitored with several biomarkers including antioxidative enzymes and non-enzymatic antioxidants, as well as end products or intermediates of peroxidative processes of lipids and proteins. Up until very recently biomarkers for oxidative stress have been measured in serum/plasma samples of pigs. Anybody that has taken blood samples from pigs knows that it can be very stressful to the pig and it is unknown how this may impact on levels of the different oxidant biomarkers. More recent studies evaluated the possibility of measuring oxidative stress biomarkers in saliva of pigs. Saliva as material to evaluate stress conditions has several advantages over blood in pigs, since collecting saliva is easy, non-invasive and leads to minimal discomfort in the animal. It therefore represents an ideal sample in pigs and makes salivary markers very attractive. The findings of the study confirmed that salivary biomarkers for oxidative stress are valid and reliable. On top of that the salivary biomarkers showed significant changes in a situation of oxidative stress such as lactation in sows. This means that future trials designed to measure oxidative stress in pigs would be a lot easier to conduct if salivary biomarkers are used.

Feed for antioxidative capacity

A better understanding of the factors causing oxidative stress in sows and improved capabilities of measuring oxidative stress in sows is paving the way to take control of oxidative stress more actively to minimize the impact on the sow. Feed additives that have proven capabilities for antioxidant capacity can help to support the antioxidative capacity of sows. Formulating diets accordingly, particularly for production phases where the sow is more vulnerable to oxidative stress can thus prevent excessive oxidative stress in sows.

Many herbs and spices contain high levels of components with strong antioxidative power, such as alkaloids and polyphenolic compounds including different types of phenolic terpenes, phenolic acids and flavonoids. New research methodologies are increasing the understanding of how bioactive substances from herbs and spices work alone and in concert at the cellular level in animals. This is helping companies working in this field to design products and efficacy trials to maximise the potential benefits from these substances in animal nutrition.

Published in International Pig Topics by Gwendolyn Jones, May 2021

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Adaptive capacity of farm animals to summer heat

The adaptive capacity of farm animals determines the impact summer heat has on animal productivity. Scientists are beginning to discover ways to influence the adaptive capacity of farm animals to reduce heat stress and its negative consequences for animal welfare and farm profitability in response to rising temperatures. Free Ebook to download at the end of this article

Temperatures are on the rise with climate change

As June approaches temperatures are rising and so is the risk for heat stress in farm animals. Temperatures are rising, not just because we are at the end of May, but also in general. Our climate is changing, and we can expect to see increases in temperature over the coming century. According to recent predictions, global temperatures are expected to rise by 1.4–3.0°C by the end of this century.

Increasing concerns on production losses because of high ambient temperatures are not only relevant for the tropical areas of the world, but also for countries occupying the temperature zone in which heat stress is more of a seasonal problem during the 2 to 3 summer months. The U.S. livestock production industry incurs an estimated total annual economic loss of $1.69 to $2.36 billion due to heat stress.

Genetic selection programs carried out in optimally controlled conditions improved productivity traits in livestock, however it has also enhanced the susceptibility of animals to high ambient temperature, due to the strong relationship between production level and metabolic heat production.  Global warming will further accentuate heat-stress related problems in livestock.

Adaptive capacity of farm animals

The vulnerability of livestock to heat stress varies according to species, genetic potential, life stage, management or production system and nutritional status. Among livestock species goats are thought of as the most adaptive species to climate change. They can tolerate severe heat loads, as well as extended periods without water and feed.

Animals have adaptive mechanisms to cope with rising temperatures, which involve morphological, behavioural and genetic capacity for change.

Coat colour is an important morphological trait, whereby light/white-coloured coats in animals are recognized as being advantageous in terms of adaptive ability to high temperatures. Behavioural changes seen in heat stressed animals include using shade whenever they have access to it and a reduction in feed intake.

The adaptive process can be expanded to include morphological, physiological, behavioural, metabolic, neuro-endocrine and cellular responses.

Some of the physiological parameters for adaptation to heat stress are respiration rate, rectal temperature, pulse rate, skin temperature and sweating rate.

The adaptive mechanisms help the animals to adjust to rising temperatures. However, they can compromise the productive potential in most species, in favour of maintaining regular energy supply for vital physiological functions.

Importance of identifying animals with high heat tolerance

Research into the physiological changes accompanying high temperature, in tropically adapted species, is increasing the understanding of the mechanisms that the animal uses to accomplish the necessary functions efficiently and to find ways to support a more efficient response to minimize the impact of heat stress on performance.

Identifying relevant biomarkers in animals capable of maintaining high levels of productivity during heat stress will also help to breed for climate resilient animals.

Impact of heat stress on farm animal productivity

In general animal responses vary according to the duration and the intensity of the thermal challenge

Physiological and metabolic adjustments resulting from the thermoregulatory responses to a thermal stress have negative consequences on animal productivity and health.

The reduced animal performance can to some extent be explained to be the result of both direct and indirect effects of heat stress on reducing feed intake. Another portion of the reduced performance is due to effects on reproductive physiology, health, energy metabolism and on deposition of fat and protein.

Many of the negative consequences that heat stress has on animal health and productivity are mediated by reduced intestinal barrier integrity.  Heat stress also results in the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS), which if uncontrolled can lead to oxidative stress and inflammatory responses further down the line.

Apart from affecting animal productivity, rising temperatures may also put an increased strain on the physiological ability of farm animals to cope with already existing stressful stages of production, such as early lactation.

Free Ebook – Guide to adapting to summer heat for livestock

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Frequent monitoring reveals poultry resilience indicator

Frequent measurements of body weight revealed a poultry resilience indicator. Body weight measurements have long played an important role in laying hen production. Research shows that if measured frequently, the resulting data can provide new insights into how breeding and feeding management can be further optimized in laying hens. This may also stimulate new methods for evaluating feed additives in commercial diets.

Several disciplines in animal production, including genetics, veterinary sciences and nutrition are currently striving to find ways of positively influencing resilience in farm animals. There are two reasons for that: On the one hand developments such as reduction in the use of antibiotics, climate change and a shortage in farm labour are increasing the need for resilient animals. On the other hand, continuous breeding for improved animal performance has been shown to reduce the resilience of farm animals.

Resilience affects the animal’s response to changes in its production status (e.g. start of lay or peak lay) as well as challenges in its environment and diet. However, our ability to influence and improve resilience in farm animals depends on knowing how to measure it in the field. Advances in sensor technologies and automated weighing systems are enabling more frequent monitoring of birds increasing the quantity of parameters measured and data collected in poultry production systems. This is helping to gain new insights into the wellbeing of birds and make better decisions in real time on farms.

Body weight management

Body weight is one of the most important parameters to track in layer flocks. Breeding companies say this is true not just during the rearing period but also once the bird starts laying and throughout its life. Reaching the target body weight during rearing is key to production performance in the laying period. Whereas regularly monitoring body weight throughout the laying period provides insights into how well the environment is supporting the optimal productivity of the bird.

The sooner body weight deviations are detected the quicker adjustment can be made, which means the more frequent the measurements are made the better to prevent any long-term damage. Breeding companies recommend a minimum of weekly measurements of body weights in laying hens from day old to 26 weeks of wage, every two weeks from 26 to 35 weeks of age and every 4 weeks beyond 35 weeks of age.

Technological advancements in collecting data

New technologies and digitalization are paving the way for more frequent and precise monitoring of key parameters in birds for productivity and wellbeing.  Increasing the frequency of weighing and sample size will lead to more precise prediction of live weight in flocks. New sensor-scales can feed live, accurate weight recordings into analytics platforms, which helps to recognize any variation in growth rates to act on.

Computer vision technology is another area that is promising to facilitate frequent monitoring of birds in the field and has been applied to automation of house management, behaviour, disease detection and weight measurement. Computer vision uses computational models to gain high-level understanding from digital images or videos. It has been proposed that camera-based weighing systems may have the potential of weighing a wider variety of birds, in a flock that would avoid a platform weigher.

These new technologies can provide information on what is happening in real time compared to what should happen. So, if there are deviations from where things should be, it is a simple way of showing the farmer that he needs to act.

Poultry resilience indicator in laying hens – how to measure

Some of the economic value in improving resilience in farm animals is based on reduced labour and health costs on farms. Once we know how to measure resilience effectively in birds in the field, we can start managing for it. Researchers from the University of Wageningen are proposing natural logarithm-transformed variance (ln(variance)) of deviations in body weights measured over time as a reliable resilience indicator in laying hens.

More resilient animals are expected to show fewer and smaller deviations compared to less resilient animals, because they are less influenced by disturbances. Figure 1 illustrates the difference in ln(variance) in body weights of laying hens; a more horizontal standardized body weight line over time indicates a lower ln(variance) and thus a greater resilience.  The key to gaining these insights on bird resilience are regular body weight measurements as frequently as possible throughout the life of laying hens.

Best results for improved resilience in birds are likely to be achieved via a combination of breeding, nutrition and other management strategies. While we may only be at the beginning of being able to manage for poultry resilience, progress will certainly be accelerated as and when new monitoring technologies coming to the market are adopted on farms more widely.  However, in research trials these technologies and new parameters may already be used to evaluate not only genetic progress but also responses to new nutritional strategies in birds.

Illustrating the poultry resilience indicator

Figure 1 Example to illustrate differences in ln(variance) of body weight in laying hens. A more horizontal standardized body weight line over time indicates a lower ln(variance) and thus a greater (hypothesized) resilience. (adapted from Berghof et al 2019)

Published in International Poultry Production by Gwendolyn Jones, April 2021

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Tail biting – How to spot early warning signs in pigs

Tail biting is an unpredictable and costly problem in pig herds. Understanding the early warning signs can help to reduce the associated losses. New precision livestock farming tools can make it easier to continuously monitor for the early warning signs on pig farms.

Causes for tail biting in pigs

The causes behind tail biting are highly complex and multi factorial. The lack of a single clear cause makes the problem hard to control.

It can be the result of aggressive attacks from other pigs caused by frustration. This can be due to management errors, e.g. overcrowding, ammonia levels, competition for feed or not enough enrichment materials.

Secondary tail biting involves tissue that has already been damaged e.g. through necrosis and inflammation. The smell of the injured tissue and appearance of blood attracts pigs to start nibbling and biting the affected area. This is how Swine Inflammation and Necrosis Syndrome (SINS) can be associated with it. More recent work suggests that oxidative stress causing inflammation and related death of cells could also play a role in the development of secondary tail biting. If there are too many dead cells, typically occurring at the ear tips and tails of the pigs, again the smell becomes different, thus attracting other pigs.

Cost of tail biting in pigs

Tail biting affects the welfare of pigs, but also causes significant economic losses for pig producers. Tail wounds can be a source of infection resulting in morbidity and mortality, with negative impacts on pig growth estimated at €0.59 per pig. On top of that there are labour and veterinary costs to consider, as well as losses due to carcass condemnation at slaughter. It has been proposed that on-farm prevalence is higher than what abattoir data suggests. Tail bite wounds are often treated with antibiotics, so being more in control of tail biting outbreaks can also help to reduce the use of antibiotics on pig farms.

Early warning signs for tail biting in pigs

To effectively reduce the negative effects of tail biting, it must be diagnosed at an early stage. Tail biting behaviour is usually not detected until tail lesions are present, which increases the difficulties in stopping outbreaks. The identification of early warning signals helps to reduce the unpredictability of an outbreak.

Several studies have shown that tail posture can predict tail damage. Pigs observed with their tails between legs were more likely to show bite marks or a tail wound 2-3 days later compared to pigs observed with a curled tail. This was true for weanling pigs and fattening pigs. Others reported that a hanging tail posture at feeding was significantly correlated to wounds on pig tails. Pigs with tail wounds were four times more likely to have hanging tails compared to pigs with undamaged tails.  Findings from additional studies also provided insights of predicting how close a herd is to an outbreak. In this study 15% of pigs in the herd had a hanging tail posture 7 days before an outbreak, which changed to 20-25% one day prior to the outbreak.

These findings suggest that tail posture can be used as an early warning indicator. Checking tail postures on a regular basis, increases early recognition of tail biting and can prevent further escalation of the problem.

Precision livestock farming tools to detect early warning signs

With a shortage in farm staff and an increasing number of pigs kept per farm, individual monitoring of animals becomes more difficult in the field. When stock people on large farms can on average only spend 5 seconds per day per finisher pig inspection, being able to automate the detection of tail posture for continuous monitoring would make a big difference on farm.

Researchers from SRUC Edinburgh investigated the effectiveness of a 3D machine vision system to automate tail posture detection. 3D cameras and machine vision algorithms were used to automatically measure tail posture in groups of pigs before, during and after tail biting outbreaks.  The findings of the study confirmed that the technology was accurate enough to provide early warning of tail biting on farm. Furthermore, the proportion of low tails increased over time pre-outbreak, was greater in outbreak groups than control groups and was associated with increased tail injury.

At Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, behavioural researchers are currently looking into applying similar technologies and using tail posture as an indicator for resilience in pigs.

Models assessing the risk for a tail biting outbreak

A different approach to prevent a tail biting outbreak on pig farms was proposed using a model based on Classification and Regression Tree (CRT) methodologies.  CRT analysis showed five main variables (stocking density, ammonia levels, number of pigs per stockman, type of floor and timeliness in feed supply) as critical predictors. It was suggested to help farmers and veterinarians to manage the predisposing variables for acute tail biting lesions on farm.

Preventing tail biting related to oxidative stress

Oxidative stress and related inflammation in the pig is often the result of the pig’s response to stress factors such as weaning, increasing stocking density, high ambient temperatures, but also dietary stressors such as mycotoxins. Generally, the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS) increases within body cells and if the pig’s own defense system is overwhelmed it will lead to oxidative stress, which again can lead to an increase in inflammatory responses. Therefore, supporting the pig’s antioxidative capacity by nutritional means, may help to reduce the risk of tail biting which is related to oxidative stress. It would be even more effective, if inflammatory responses could be blocked or inhibited at the same time. Plant extracts with proven capabilities to improve the antioxidative capacity in pigs can form part of a nutritional solution.

Relevant links

A cross-sectional study for predicting tail biting risk in pig farms using classification and regression tree analysis (2017) 

Automatic early warning of tail biting in pigs: 3D cameras can detect lowered tail posture before an outbreak (2018) 

Tail Posture as an Indicator of Tail Biting in Undocked Finishing Pigs (2019) 

Stress reactions to mycotoxins in animals

Resilience in pigs – new benchmark to reach genetic potential

Biomimicry – can it help in the design of sustainable feed solutions?

Biomimicry has already generated many new technologies inspired by nature. Is there something that we can take away from it for the design of animal feed solutions for sustainable animal nutrition?

What is biomimicry?

Biomimicry, or biomimetics, is the study of nature and leveraging solutions that have evolved in nature to innovate and solve problems for the benefit of humans.  So essentially it is about piggy backing on nature or emulating what has already been proven by nature to work and to be sustainable throughout time.

Biomimicry is thought of as a field with potential to bring answers to many different disciplines, including medicine, architecture, agriculture, industry. It can pretty much apply to all sectors. Examples for innovations stemming from the application of biomimicry are architectural designs with improved thermoregulation inspired by termite mounds, robotics inspired by motor mechanisms of insects or velcro, which is derived from the observation of hooks implemented by certain plants that stick to animal coats. Aircraft engineers are inspired by birds and sharks to design lighter and more fuel-efficient aircrafts.

Repurposing nature’s best ideas to solve human challenges


Advantages of applying biomimicry to innovation and design

The field of biomimicry has experienced significant growth in recent years and has been popularized by Janine Benyus. It is now a tool to accelerate innovation for small and large companies.

Biomimicry is explained to be different from other bio-inspired design, because of its focus on learning from nature how to be sustainable. Designs following biomimicry are thought to be more efficient, resilient and sustainable, if they emulated biological lessons on form, process and ecosystem. The outcome is superior to that developed through any artificial means.

Biomimicry applied to the design of sustainable animal feed solutions

Farm animals possess limited physiologic responses to challenges such as for example high ambient temperatures, reproduction, oxidation or infections. However, amongst the millions of other species on earth facing the same challenges, we can find many other strategies or adaptations, which could be superior. This means that, within nature there are not just a handful of solutions, but a huge variety of strategies we could potentially adapt to solve physiological needs and equip animals to cope better with stressors.

How did nature solve this?

Plants evolved with sophisticated strategies to cope with stressors, since they can not move away from them and are bound to their locations. We can also learn from other organisms and species in nature that survive under extreme conditions, which strategies give them an advantage. What can we leverage from that in animal nutrition to support adaptive and coping mechanisms in animals?

New benchmarks in animal production and better ways of measuring improvements call for new approaches in the design and evaluation of feed solutions. Biomimicry offers a framework for innovation with sustainable outcomes. There is certainly no harm in asking how nature solved something as a source of inspiration.

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Resilient dairy cows – why is their value increasing?

Resilient dairy cows are worth more. Researchers studying resilience are discovering the benefits of resilience for cow wellbeing, production life span and profitability in milk production.

What resilience can NOT do in dairy cows

Resilience cannot replace good management practices, stresses Professor Müller, Director of the Ruminant and Swine Clinic of the Freie Universität Berlin in a webinar presentation organized by Anco Animal Nutrition Competence.

Ultimately it is about preparing the cow for stressors and challenges that cannot be controlled by management.  One of these challenges for example is the change from the dry period stage into  the lactation stage, i.e., the transition period. This is a natural and unstoppable process initiated by calving. However, the period around calving and the start of lactation is very stressful for the cow, especially for high producing dairy cows. A resilient cow can better adapt to this change from one stage into another and to the shock to her metabolism.

Also, the ability to adapt to issues arising from climate change play an important role to reduce the impact of heat stress on performance and animal welfare in dairy cow husbandry.

Definition of resilience in animal production

Colditz and Hine (2016) defined resilience as.  “The capacity of the animal to return rapidly to its pre-challenge state following short-term exposure to a challenging situation.”  In other words, resilience in animals is the product of a better adaptability or lower sensitivity to a challenge.

In the following short video Professor Kerstin-Elisabeth Mueller explains the concept with a few very good visual representations.

Definition Resilienz in der Tierhaltung

Benefits of resilient dairy cows for competitive milk production

  •  Resilient dairy cows have a greater chance for increased longevity

The production life span of a dairy cow is an important factor for the profitability of a dairy herd. However, many cows leave the herd early and 40% leave within the first 100 days of lactation.

The reason for short-lived production life spans are often production related diseases. It has been confirmed that the cause of it has more to do with a sub-optimal adaption during the transition period than with high milk yields.

Resilient dairy cows have a higher adaptive capacity, which reduces the risk for them to develop production diseases during the transition period.  Researchers in the Netherlands have been able to detect dairy cows with a higher risk of developing production diseases in the transition period through specific metabolic indicators and sensor technology in advance.

  • Resilient dairy cows can cope better with climate change

It has been shown that there is a need in animal production to be able to adapt to climate change, to ensure stable incomes on farms. Especially high producing dairy cows are more sensitive to high ambient temperatures and are more prone to suffer from heat stress, due to their increased body heat production.

Cows experiencing heat stress produce less milk, lower milk quality and are more susceptible to disease. For those reasons, animal geneticists are trying to find ways to breed dairy cows that are more resilient to high ambient temperatures.

  • Resilient dairy cows require less labour time

A shortage in labour in dairy production increases the need for dairy cows that are easier to care for. Researchers from the Netherlands report that resilient dairy cows require less labour time, because the cows show less problems.  The performance of these cows is more consistent, and they are more likely to maintain their health, which means that cow sensors submit fewer warning signals for animal care workers to attend to the animals. A reduction in time spent on an animal with an alert from sensors will also reduce costs associated with labour

What are the factors influencing resilience in dairy cows?

Resilience in dairy cows is to some extent influenced by her genetic make-up, i.e. breeding. However, external factors such as management practices and nutrition have a far bigger influence on resilience of the cow, explains Professor Mueller in an Anco webinar

Watch this short video to see what Professor Mueller had to say.

resiliente Kühe - Resilienz


The value of resilient dairy cows is increasing, because they provide an opportunity to satisfy trends in consumer demands for animal welfare and at the same time can influence profitability in milk production in a sustainable way.

Automatic milking and feeding systems in combination with new sensor technologies enable the measurement of resilience in the dairy cow and the progress made.

Collaboration between geneticists, veterinarians, animal behaviour researchers, animal nutritionists, ag tech businesses and farmers has the best chance of success for a significant long-term improvement in resilience of dairy cows.

At Anco Animal Nutrition Competence we are contributing to finding solutions to support resilience in dairy cows via nutrition. Ask for Anco FIT products to take the first step for more resilience in dairy cows.

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Resiliente Milchkühe – warum steigt Ihr Wert für Milchproduktion?

Ehrlich währt am längsten – aber resiliente Milchkühe auch. Es befassen sich bereits mehrere Disziplinen mit Resilienz bei Milchkühen. Grund: Es zahlt sich aus für Tierwohl, Langlebigkeit und nachhaltige  Rentabilität in der Milchproduktion. Hier werden die Vorteile mehr im Detail angesprochen und erklärt was Resilienz für die Milchkuh eigentlich bedeutet.

Was ist Resilienz NICHT bei Milchkühen?

„Resilienz ist nicht geeignet, um ungünstige Haltungsbedingungen oder ein defizitäres Management zu kompensieren“ betont Professor Kerstin-Elisabeth Mueller, Tierärztin und Direktorin der Klinik für Klauentiere an der Freien Universität Berlin in einem Vortrag bei einer Webinarveranstaltung von Anco.

Sinn der Sache ist, die Kuh für Stresssituationen auszustatten, die man weniger durch Management kontrollieren kann.  Dazu gehört zum Beispiel der Wechsel zur Milchproduktion – also die Transitphase. Dieser Prozess ist natürlich und unvermeidlich, wenn die Kuh kalbt. Der Zeitraum rund um die Geburt und Beginn der Laktation ist jedoch für die Kuh eine schwere Belastungssituation, vor allem wenn sie darauf ausgerichtet ist hohe Mengen an Milch zu produzieren. Eine resiliente Kuh kann sich besser auf diesen „Schockwechsel“ von einem Zustand in den nächsten anpassen.

Aber auch die Anpassungsfähigkeit zum Beispiel gegenüber dem Klimawandel spielt langfristig gesehen eine wichtige Rolle in der Haltung von Milchkühen, um den negativen Folgen von Hitzestress auf Leistung und Gesundheit vorzubeugen.

Was ist Resilienz in der Tierhaltung

„Die Fähigkeit eines Tieres durch eine Störgröße nur minimal beeinträchtigt zu werden, um danach umgehend in den ursprünglichen Zustand, der vor dem Einfluss herrschte, zurückzukehren“ (Colditz and Hine 2016)

In dem folgenden Video veranschaulicht Professor Kerstin-Elisabeth Mueller von der Freien Universität Berlin die Definition in einer Weise, dass man sich die Bedeutung von Resilienz in der Milchkuh auch bildlich besser vorstellen kann.

Video zur Definition von Resilienz in der Tierhaltung


Definition Resilienz in der Tierhaltung


Welche Vorteile bringen resiliente Milchkühe für eine wettbewerbsfähige Milchproduktion?

  • Resiliente Kühe haben bessere Chancen für Langlebigkeit

Nur eine langlebige Kuh bringt wirklich Geld ein für einen Milchkuhbetrieb. Jedoch gehen viele Kühe vorzeitig ab, bevor die Milchproduktion optimal ausgenutzt worden ist. Das passiert zu einem großen Teil (40 Prozent der Abgänge) in den ersten 100 Tagen der Laktation. Grund der kurzen Lebensdauer von Hochleistungskühen sind häufig Produktionskrankheiten. Es wurde bereits bestätigt, dass die Ursache dafür viel mehr mit einer gestörten Anpassung an die Umstellung während der Transitperiode als an der Hochleistung an sich zusammenhängt. Resiliente Kühe verfügen über ein besseres Adaptationsvermögen und daher ist das Risiko bei ihnen während der Transitphase Produktionskrankheiten zu entwickeln geringer. Niederländischen Wissenschaftlern gelang es  über bestimmte Messwerte und Sensortechnik Kühe, mit einem erhöhtem Risiko in der Transitphase an Produktionskrankheiten zu erkranken,  bereits im Vorfeld zu erkennen.

  • Resiliente Kühe können sich besser an den Klimawandel anpassen

Es ist nachgewiesen, dass die landwirtschaftliche Nutztierhaltung vom Klimawandel betroffen ist und langfristig ein Anpassungsbedarf in der Tierhaltung besteht, um die Ertragsstabilität zu gewährleisten. Vor allem Tiere mit hohem genetischen Leistungspotential sind gegenüber erhöhten Temperaturen anfälliger für Hitzestress auf Grund der höheren Eigenproduktion von Wärme.  Kühe unter Hitzestress erzeugen weniger Milch, die Milchqualität leidet und Kühe werden krankheitsanfälliger. Daher befasst man sich vor allem in der Tiergenetik damit Wege zu finden, um Kühe resilienter gegenüber Hitze zu züchten.

  • brauchen weniger Behandlungen/Medikamente

Da resiliente Kühe ein geringeres Risiko zeigen Produktionskrankheiten zu entwickeln ist es auch wahrscheinlicher, dass sie weniger mit Medikamenten (inklusive Antibiotika) behandelt werden müssen.  Zu Produktionskrankheiten gehören zum Beispiel: Ketose, Leberverfettung, Hypokalzämie und Euterentzündungen. Sie können also dazu beitragen den Einsatz von Antibiotika weiter zu reduzieren und Behandlungskosten einzusparen.

  • nehmen weniger Zeit in Anspruch

Mangel an Arbeitskräften für Milchviehbetriebe führt zu einem erhöhten Bedarf nach Kühen die problemloser zu halten sind. Niederländische Forschung in der Genetik von Milchkühen berichtet, dass Kühe mit einer erhöhten Resilienz weniger Arbeitszeit in Anspruch nehmen könnten, da sie weniger Probleme anzeigen. Ihre Leistung verläuft gleichmäßiger und sie bleiben gesünder. Damit sind resiliente Milchkühe auch leichter zu managen.

Welche Faktoren beeinflussen Resilienz in der Milchkuh?

Die Resilienz einer Kuh wird zum Teil durch ihre Genetik, also Züchtung bestimmt. Jedoch haben äußere Faktoren, wie Außenbedingungen, Haltungsbedingungen und Fütterung einen wesentlich größeren Einfluss auf die Resilienz der Kuh, erklärt Professor, Dr. Kerstin- Elisabeth Mueller in einem Vortag bei einem Anco Webinar.

Video zu Einflussfaktoren auf die Resilienz in der Milchkuh


resiliente Kühe - Resilienz


Der Wert von resilienten Milchkühen steigt, weil sie eine Möglichkeit bieten, den Ansprüchen des Konsumenten und wichtiger Trends mit Einfluss auf Tierwohl und Rentabilität von Milchproduktion, in einer nachhaltigen Weise gerecht zu werden.

Melkroboter, automatische Fütterungstechnologien und neue Sensortechnik, ermöglichen die Erfassung von Resilienz in der Milchkuh und damit auch ihre Verbesserung zu verfolgen.  Eine koordinierte Bestrebung durch Genetiker, Tierärzte, Verhaltensforscher, Tierernährer, Ag-tech Firmen und Landwirte hat die besten Aussichten auf Erfolg für eine wesentliche Steigerung von Resilienz in Milchkühen der Zukunft.

Wir bei Anco Animal Nutrition Competence leisten unseren Beitrag Lösungen zu finden, um die Resilienz bei Milchkühen über die Fütterung zu unterstützen.  Fragen Sie nach Anco FIT Farm, um Ihren ersten Schritt für mehr Resilienz zu tun.

Relevante Links

Resilienz in der Milchkuh – Nutzen in der Milchviehhaltung

Labour shortage drives the need for cow resilience

Resilience in dairy cows – feed for adaptability

Farm diversification – diversifying for farm resilience

Farm diversification can be a great way to add another stream of farm-based income and increase farm resilience. But how do you go about it, find the right idea and courage to pull it off successfully?

Farm diversification featuring in new Keep Agile Keep Farming podcast episodes 

Do you think you have a crazy idea to diversify your farm? In a special of the Keep Agile Keep Farming podcast with two episodes (episodes 3&4) on farm diversification we talk to Victoria Galligan the Editor of the Farm Diversity Magazine and Celia Gaze, Founder of The Wellbeing Farm, which is a farm diversification in Lancashire, United Kingdom that won multiple awards.

Two ladies who have seen and gone through a lot when it comes to farm diversification. We gain insights on trends and how farmers are adapting to current changes and opportunities.

Celia who has gone through the rollercoaster of farm diversification first-hand shares some important do’s and don’ts from her experience and how crazy ideas can change your life and a farm for the better. She is also the author of the book: “Why put a bow tie on a llama?” published in 2020.

Tune in to episode 3 and 4 of the Keep Agile Keep Farming podcast to gain some inspiration and practical advice to turn your idea for farm diversification into a thriving venture that increases your income profitably.

Definition of farm diversification

Farm diversification is most commonly defined as “the introduction of a non-traditional source of income into the pre-existing farm business”. Agricultural diversification includes the introduction of additional farming enterprises (eg. beef cattle, aquaculture or tomato growing). Non-agricultural diversification, involves incorporating non-farming activity into the farm business (eg. farm-based accommodation, on-farm processing of food, leasing land for non-agricultural purposes).

Why are farms diversifying?

Figures released at the beginning of 2020 revealed that more than half of England’s 57,000 farms have diversified.  A study carried out in the UK revealed that for six out of ten farming families increasing income was the most important reason for diversifying.

Similarly, a study carried out in the United States reported that 61% of farming families diversified for economic reasons, 23% for reasons external to the existing business and 16% for social reasons. Another driver was to increase the value of the farm for its transition to the next generation.

Many forms of diversified activity on the one hand have a far smoother or more steady income profile. On the other hand  they can offer an alternative market for existing agricultural products (e.g. on-farm shops).

In general farm diversification aims to spread risk and smooth cashflows, both of which add value to the farming business by improving and strengthening the economic viability of the business.

Barriers to farm diversification

Connectivity (digital) is still a key barrier in remoter rural areas. Perceived risks in the use of online tools and the costs associated with technology adoption are also barriers.

Innovation and technology adoption are key enablers behind farm diversification. Therefore, the capacity of farmers to capitalise on both farm diversification opportunities and grant-seeking activity may be supported or constrained by access to and skills to absorb and use new technologies. This again to some extent is also influenced by age and education of key decision makers on the farm.

Relevant links

The Farm diversity Magazine 

Book: Why put a bow tie on a llama?: How a crazy idea can change your life and transform your business, published in 2020 by Celia Gaze.   Buy book on amazon. 

The Wellbeing Farm 

Resilience in pigs – New benchmark to reach genetic potential

Studies have shown that pigs within a commercial grow-finish environment only achieve 70% of their growth potential compared to pigs reared in a less challenging and unrestricted research environment. Researchers have highlighted this 30% gap in pig performance as a key area for improvement using both management and genetic selection to reduce the impact of stressors on pigs reaching their genetic potential under commercial conditions. There are indications that improving the ability of pigs to cope with stressors may be a better way of improving pig performance than selecting only for increased growth potential from pig genetics researchers. Resilience in pigs has been described as the ability of pigs to cope and recover from stressors and is on the cusp of becoming a new benchmark in pig production.

Why resilience?

Average daily gain is a function of the pig’s production potential as well as the ability of the animal to cope with stressors and unforeseen challenges. Breeding and management strategies that result in more resilient pigs, will increase the capacity of pigs to reach their genetic potential under commercial conditions and improve production efficiency on farms in a sustainable way. Furthermore, it is expected that resilience research will benefit the health and welfare of pigs and reduce the use of antibiotics or treatments in general on pig farms. An economic value associated with improved resilience in pigs beyond reduction in production losses and health costs is a reduction in labour time and costs, as animals show less problems and become easier to manage.

The response of a pig to stressors in terms of minimizing the impact of a stressor and quickly recovering from it is defined as resilience. So, the capacity of the body to withstand challenges to its stability is considered as resilience.  There are many different types of stressors a pig can potentially encounter throughout its productive lifetime, which again can impact its performance. Quite often the first noticeable impact of stressors will be a reduction in feed intake in pigs. However, there are also reactions on the cellular and gut level of the pig, such as oxidative stress and inflammation in response to stressors, further reducing the available energy for growth, as those type of stress reactions will increase requirements for maintenance energy.

Ultimately the pig’s capacity to adapt efficiently will determine the extent of those stress reactions and the impact they will have on growth performance over time.  A meta-analysis study by Pastorelli et al (2012) across 122 published pig trials, studying the impact of selected stressors found under commercial conditions on reduction in average daily growth rate. The researchers also looked at how much of the reduction in growth rate was due to an increase in maintenance energy and how much was related to a reduction in feed intake.  According to this data some stressors, such as respiratory disease, lipopolysaccharides (LPS) and mycotoxins have a greater impact on feed intake than maintenance energy requirement. This might also be expected from heat stress. Whereas when it came to challenges associated with the gastrointestinal tract, a large part of the reduction in average daily gain was due to an increase in maintenance requirements. Other stressors which were not covered by this study are: human handling, vaccination, dust, ammonia or out of feed and water events, which can all also have an impact on performance of pigs to a greater or lesser extent.

Spotting resilience in pigs

Single time-point measurements have been said to be of limited value because they do not measure responses to and recovery from stressors. Although there are exceptions, such as productive longevity as it is a single measurement of the accumulated consequence of adaptive capacity and resilience. Otherwise repeated measurements over time have been found to be key to determine resilience in animals. This is where new technologies, such as automated monitoring, sensors and computer vision come into their own greatly facilitating the ability of producers to collect data from repeated individual measurements in pigs on farm. It is also making the recording of individual feed intake in group-housed pigs more accessible, which would otherwise be difficult to do on farms.

Recently several research groups have taken different approaches to measuring resilience in pigs, some using production data, some behavioural data and others are currently using artificial intelligence to monitor tail posture in pigs. But what they all have in common is, that they are looking at repeated observations to detect the number of fluctuations or deviations from an expected standard over time. Some suggest that the individual day-to-day variation in feed intake could be utilized to quantify resilience to heat stress, whereby pigs with more day-to-day variation in feed intake would indicate that pigs are less resilient.

Genetic researchers in the US confirmed that fluctuations in feed intake or duration at the feeder over time are indicators for resilience in pigs to a variety of stressors, including disease and can be used as heritable measures of general resilience in pigs. The variance of deviations in daily feed intake and deviations in daily duration at the feeder during the finishing phase were positively genetically correlated to mortality and number of treatments required in pigs. A pig welfare research group from the Netherlands are using the pig’s tail posture and intactness as the main indicator for resilience. The theory behind it being that more resilient pigs are less inclined to start tail biting and this is also related to tail posture – curly versus straight.

Managing for resilience in pigs

Geneticists have certainly started to pave the way to breed more resilient pigs by determining phenotypic parameters that are suitable as resilience indicators. Behavioural research is highlighting the opportunity to improve resilience in pigs through management practices, such as enriched housing. In piglets the location of sow feeders during lactation have been shown to matter in the piglet’s ability to adapt to the weaning process.

Nutritional solutions that help to build the adaptive capacity of the pig to stressors for more energy efficient responses could also play a role in managing resilience. For sure more research is underway to gain a better understanding of how nutrition and other management practices can effectively support pig resilience.

Closing remarks

The resilience approach requires us to make a shift in how we evaluate the impact of breeding and management strategies in pigs. While the proposed resilience indicators are not always easy to measure under commercial conditions using conventional practices, the development of new technologies helping farmers to monitor individual animals for precision livestock farming is certainly speeding up progress required to facilitate this.

This approach also highlights the need for adaptability to future events over optimization and improving efficiency under known conditions for pigs and farms. There is no time like the present Covid 19 crisis to remind us of the uncertainty and unpredictability in our lives and farming, bringing home the need for resilience.


Published in International Pig Topics, October 2020 by Gwendolyn Jones

Relevant articles

Resilience – economic value in animal production

Creating resilience in pigs through artificial intelligence

Farm resilience starts in the cow

Animal resilience – Harnessing the power of plants

Plant extracts in animal feed – Why formulation matters

Plant extracts are often all thrown into the same pot, when in fact there are many different types of herbs and spices that could be used in products formulated for the use in animal feed. Plus, there are a multitude of possibilities to combine them and additional factors that will differentiate products containing plant extracts formulated for the use in animal feed. So, the reality is they are not all the same.

The type and combination of plant extracts is only one of the factors that determines the function and effectiveness of what is currently sold into animal feed as “plant extracts”.  What looks promising in an in vitro experiment might not always be practical and cost-effective in vivo.  The question will always be: have the plant extracts been tested at different dosages in the animal and in what species?

Here are 3 of the key factors that need to be considered when formulating and designing feed solutions based on plant extracts.


Herbs and Spices have many different bioactive components with different properties and functions. Even their essential oils can have something like 80 different components. Plants have evolved to cope with stressors and many of these components have a protective role supporting the resilience of plants, but they also evolved to attract pollinators to propagate. So, when you combine plant extracts derived from a number of different herbs and spices you can have a all cocktail of bioactive substances and their effect will ultimately also be determined on synergistic effects and not just concentrations of individual components. New research technologies have facilitated a more in depth understanding of the mode of action of plant extracts and their components at the animal level. As a result, it is now possible to formulate plant extracts with a more accurate idea of the outcome for their function in the animal and animal response, rather just working in a black box approach. This is speeding up the process of product development and evaluation. It also provides more potential for differentiation in function between products through formulation know how within the category of plant extracts.


Most plant extracts have sensory properties and they come with a distinctive flavour. That in itself can determine how effective the product will be and how much of it you can apply to animal feed, because the flavour can affect feed intake not just in a positive way.  For example, plant extracts with a strong bitter taste can lead to a lower acceptance of feed in pigs. Again, this will depend on dosage, but is it possible to apply the dosage required to achieve the desired effect in the pig without having a negative impact on feed intake? Only in vivo dose response trials will provide the answer. So, it is important to understand which plant extract compounds might have a negative impact on feed intake and find ways to determine the acceptable dose or mask their taste.


3.Concentration/dosage of plant extracts

Concentrations of individual components in the formula and concentrations ultimately added to the feed determine the dosage required to achieve the desired response in the animal. Dose response trials are required to determine the optimal and most cost-effective dosage. As is the case with other types of feed additives more is not always better in terms of performance, but there will be a minimum dose required to have an impact on the animal.

These are only some of the factors to consider when formulating products with plant extracts. But they highlight that how they are formulated matters, and the buck stops with the animal.

Relevant articles

Animal resilience – Harnessing the power of plant resilience

Evolution in the evaluation of phytogenics