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.

Relevant articles

Animal resilience – harnessing the power of plant resilience

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.

Relevant articles

Resilience – economic value in animal production

Dairy farming resilience – 3 reasons to keep your cows agile

Feeding cows for adaptive capacity in the transition period

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


Resilience in dairy cows – feed for adaptability

It is possible to breed for resilience in dairy cows. But is it possible to feed for it? What are the nutritional options?

Farm resilience

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 and solutions 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.

Farm resilience is characterized by the ability to:

(1) constantly evolve while protecting against shocks to the system

(2) readjust to adapt to stressors

(3) to implement strategies to take advantage of strengths

and (4) to continually adapt to the current situation (Darnhofer 2009)

Increasing diversity and adaptive capacity of farm systems have been highlighted as key drivers to improve farm resilience and the ability of farms to cope with different types of disruption and stressors.

Farm resilience starts in the cow

In a dairy production system, farm resilience also depends on how well cows can cope with unforeseen challenges in their feed and their environment. As the cow is an integral part of the system, she is expected to be resilient and less sensitive to stressors and sub-optimal circumstances. This is because less resilient cows will have greater fluctuations in their milk performance and quality leading to a decreased cost-effectiveness of dairy rations and a lower likelihood of reaching performance targets. Consequently, fluctuations in farm profits are bound to occur.

Lower resilience in cows can also lead to increased susceptibility of disease which can cause further losses in the long run. More resilient cows put fewer constraints on new farming systems and require fewer drugs, without compromising health or economic efficiency and are less likely to be prematurely culled. This again affects the sustainability and long-term profitability of the dairy sector.

Resilience in dairy cows – advantages

  • more flexibility and adaptive capacity for the farm system
  • greater consistency in milk production
  • greater consistency in milk quality
  • longer production lives, longevity
  • more stable farm incomes
  • fewer treatments and drugs
  • easier to manage cows and reduction in labour time
  • improved cow welfare

Resilience in dairy cows depends on adaptive capacity

Resilience is determined by how the cow responds and adapts to stressors or in other words by her adaptive capacity.  The transition period for instance is a critical time that requires a high capacity to adapt to lactation. But milk production and quality will also depend on how the cow responds to other stressors, such as heat and mycotoxins. Most stressors will provoke stress reactions in the form of reduced feed intake, oxidative stress, inflammatory responses or changes in rumen efficiency. The extent of these stress reactions is determined by the adaptive capacity of the cow, which again determines the impact stressors can have on key performance parameters, health and longevity of the cow and how quickly she recovers.

Gut agility – feeding for adaptive capacity

Nutrition can play an active role in management strategies designed to reduce the impact of stressors on dairy cow well-being and performance. New nutritional concepts, such as gut agility activators, are designed to support the adaptive capacity of dairy cows for improved resilience.

Relevant articles

Dairy farming resilience – 3 reasons to keep your cows agile

Labour shortage drives the need for cow resilience to optimize performance

Feeding cows for adaptive capacity in the transition period

Stability, robustness, vulnerability and resilience of agricultural systems. A review


Egg production – Resilience for laying persistence

In egg production longer laying cycles can help to cut costs, so they are a promising solution in a tough economic climate. Plus, they can reduce the environmental impact of egg production. Therefore, there is an increasing focus on improving laying persistence and egg quality at the end of the laying cycle. However, due to increasingly intensive metabolism for egg formation, laying hens are more susceptible to diseases, which requires a shift in breeding and nutrition towards greater resilience of birds to improve laying persistence for longer laying cycles.

There is a fast decline in egg production after the hens reach 480 d of age leading to reduced commercial value of laying hens. Understanding the mechanisms of the deterioration of the laying performance can help to slow down the process. The ovary and the liver are key organs involved in egg production of the laying hen, which is why knowing how to support them effectively by nutritional means can make a difference to laying persistence.

Oxidative stress in aging organs

Ovarian aging is one of the highest risk factors that lead to the decline of ovarian functions and hence a reduction in egg production. Studies have shown that oxidative stress plays a driving role in ovarian aging. The antioxidant status of the ovary decreases with age (Figure 2) as a result of a reduction in antioxidant enzymes and antioxidants in the hen’s own defense mechanisms. Oxidative stress is initiated by the gradual accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in the ovary and a reduction of the antioxidative capacity during the aging process. This will be exacerbated through stressors, such as heat, mycotoxins, endotoxins and others, which increase the production of ROS in the hen on a cellular level. A growing body of evidence suggests that oxidative stress is involved in most of commercially relevant stresses in poultry production. Oxidative stress is defined as an imbalance between production of ROS and their elimination by protective mechanisms. This imbalance leads to damage of important biomolecules and cells, with potential impact on the whole organism. It can also lead to inflammatory responses which can affect energy efficiency of the laying hen.

Age-related changes in the antioxidative capacity of the hen’s liver, is an important factor that influences liver function. Studies have demonstrated that the total antioxidant capacity of the liver declines as the hen ages (Figure 2) and this has also been linked to a decrease in egg production and in the ability of yolk precursor formation.

Feeding for resilience in egg production

To extend the laying cycle of commercial flocks, long-term maintenance of organs involved in producing eggs is required. Feeding for antioxidative capacity in laying hens has been shown to retard the antioxidant decline of aging ovaries and can thus help to maintain functioning ovaries for longer. It is also known to maintain a healthy liver for longer. However, feeding to improve the adaptive capacity of birds to stressors helps to minimize stress reactions, such as oxidative stress, as well as inflammatory responses and reduced feed intake, which can further increase resilience in birds and reduce the potential for stressors to diminish the chances for producers to successfully extend the laying period. Animal resilience has been defined as “the capacity of the animal to be minimally affected by challenges or to rapidly return to the state pertained before exposure to a challenge.

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. A trial carried out in a commercial laying hen flock in Brazil, demonstrates how Anco FIT Poultry improves the resilience of birds to stressors compared to birds on a control diet (Figure 3). The impact of stressors was smaller on egg production and birds recovered quicker from stressors leading to greater laying persistency and more eggs produced per hen over the trial period.


Published in International Poultry Production by Gwendolyn Jones

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Animal Nutrition journal – New scientific paper on Anco FIT Poultry

The Animal Nutrition journal published a scientific paper with research involving the application of Anco FIT Poultry in broilers and its effects on the expression of cytoprotective genes at the gut level.

Link to full scientific paper published online in Animal Nutrition


Priming of intestinal cytoprotective genes and antioxidant capacity by dietary phytogenic inclusion in broilers

Konstantinos C. Mountzouris, Vasileios V. Paraskeuas, Konstantinos Fegeros

The potential of a phytogenic premix (PP) based on ginger, lemon balm, oregano and thyme to stimulate the expression of cytoprotective genes at the broiler gut level was evaluated in this study. In particular, the effects of PP inclusion levels on a selection of genes related to host protection against oxidation (catalase [CAT], superoxide dismutase 1 [SOD1], glutathione peroxidase 2 [GPX2], heme oxygenase 1 [HMOX1], NAD(P)H quinone dehydrogenase 1 [NQO1], nuclear factor (erythroid-derived 2)-like 2 [Nrf2] and kelch like ECH associated protein 1 [Keap1]), stress (heat shock 70 kDa protein 2 [HSP70] and heat shock protein 90 alpha family class A member 1 [HSP90]) and inflammation (nuclear factor kappa B subunit 1 [NF-kB1], Toll-like receptor 2 family member B (TLR2B) and Toll-like receptor 4 [TLR4]) were profiled along the broiler intestine. In addition, broiler intestinal segments were assayed for their total antioxidant capacity (TAC). Depending on PP inclusion level (i.e. 0, 750, 1,000 and 2,000 mg/kg diet) in the basal diets, 1-d-old Cobb broiler chickens (n = 500) were assigned into the following 4 treatments: CON, PP-750, PP-1000 and PP-2000. Each treatment had 5 replicates of 25 chickens with ad libitum access to feed and water. Data were analyzed by ANOVA and means compared using Tukey’s honest significant difference (HSD) test.


Polynomial contrasts tested the linear and quadratic effect of PP inclusion levels. Inclusion of PP increased (P≤ 0.05) the expression of cytoprotective genes against oxidation, except CAT. In particular, the cytoprotective against oxidation genes were up-regulated primarily in the duodenum and the ceca and secondarily in the jejunum. Most of the genes were upregulated in a quadratic manner with increasing PP inclusion level with the highest expression levels noted in treatments PP-750 and PP-1000 compared to CON. Similarly, intestinal TAC was higher in PP- 1000 in the duodenum (P= 0.011) and the ceca (P=0.050) compared to CON. Finally, increasing PP inclusion level resulted in linearly reduced (P≤ 0.05) expression of NF-kB1, TLR4 and HSP70, the former in the duodenum and the latter 2 in the ceca.


Overall, PP inclusion consistently up-regulated cytoprotective genes and down-regulated stress and inflammation related ones. The effect is dependent on PP inclusion level and the intestinal site. The potential of PP to beneficially prime bird cytoprotective responses merit further investigation under stress-challenge conditions.

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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.


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).


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.

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