Scientific abstract published in ESPN 2019 proceedings

Anco FIT Poultry featured in the ESPN 2019 (European Symposium on Poultry Nutrition) proceedings with a scientific abstract

Inclusion level effects of a phytogenic feed additive on broiler carcass traits, availability of dietary energy and expression of genes relevant for nutrient absorptive and metabolic functions of cell growth protein synthesis

Mountzouris, K.1, Paraskeuas, V. 1, Griela, E. 1, Kern, A. 2, Fegeros, K. 1
1Department of Nutritional Physiology and Feeding, Agricultural University of Athens, 118 55 Athens, Greece
2Anco Animal Nutrition Competence GmbH, Linzer Strasse 55, 3100 Sankt Poelten, Austria

The inclusion level of a phytogenic premix (PP) gut agility activator comprised of functional flavouring substances of ginger, lemon balm, oregano and thyme was investigated for its effects on broiler performance, carcass traits, nutrient digestibility, availability of dietary energy (AMEn) and expression of intestinal nutrient transporter (SGLT1, GLUT2, PEPT1, BOAT and LAT1) genes including genes FABP2 and mTORC1 relevant for cellular fatty acid uptake and protein synthesis, respectively. One-day-old Cobb broiler chickens (n=500) were assigned into four treatments, with five replicates of 25 chickens each.

Depending on PP inclusion level (i.e. 0, 750, 1000 and 2000 mg/kg diet) treatments were: Con, PP750, PP1000 and PP2000. Data were analysed by ANOVA and significant effects (P≤0.05) were compared using Tukey HSD test. Polynomial contrasts tested the linear and quadratic effect of PP inclusion levels.

Growth performance responses were not improved significantly (P>0.05) by PP inclusion. However, carcass (P=0.030) and breast yield (P=0.023) were higher in PP1000 compared to Con. In addition, PP1000 had higher AMEn (P=0.049) compared to PP2000 and Con. Gene expressions from 10 chickens per treatment of SGLT1, GLUT2, PEPT1, BOAT and FABP2 were not affected by PP.

However, PP affected the expression of LAT1 (P<0.001) in jejunum and that of mTORC1 in duodenum (P=0.010) and ceca (P=0.025). In particular, their expression increased with increasing PP inclusion level in a linear and quadratic pattern depending on the intestinal segment.

Overall, carcass and meat yield improvements by PP inclusion at 1000 mg/kg could be explained by the increased dietary energy available to the birds and the preliminary evidence for an improved muscle protein synthesis function.

More Scientific abstracts with Anco FIT Poultry

Phytogenic premix effects on gene expression of intestinal antioxidant enzymes and broiler meat antioxidant capacity

Effects of dietary inclusion level of a phytogenic premix on broiler growth performance, nutrient digestibility, total antioxidant capacity and gene expression of antioxidant enzymes

Animal Resilience – Harnessing the power of plant resilience

Plant resilience determines survival of plants, when faced with stressful conditions. One of the keys to strategies for animal resilience could be the answer to the question: What is helping plants to adapt to climate changes, attacks by microbial pathogens, insect pests and other stressors?

Resilience a key trait to survival

Resilience is a modern name for an inherent trait. It has always been crucial to survival to bounce back from challenges and stressors and carry on living. This is what defines resilience in plants, animals, humans and organisations. The quicker you can adapt to or the lower the impact challenges and stressors can have on your normal functioning the greater the chance of survival in the long term. The more resilient you are, the less support you require from outside, and the more consistent and efficient your performance. This means resilience is a key competitive advantage particularly in stressful situations and times of change.

Why resilience matters in animal production

There is a vast amount of activities and studies currently focusing to increase plant resilience. Things on the animal side are behind, but the pace is already picking up for very similar reasons. Climate change, demands for reduction in the use of chemicals and antibiotic growth promotors, increased concerns for animal welfare and a rapid decline in skilled labour in animal production are driving geneticists back to the drawing board. They all essentially agree: Continued selection for greater performance in the absence of consideration for the adaptive capacity of animals to cope with stressors will result in greater susceptibility to stress and disease. Possibilities for genetic selection and other alternatives to improve the adaptive capacity of animals are currently being explored in various research projects across the world to increase animal resilience.

Extracting plant resilience

As plants evolved, they developed very sophisticated coping mechanisms to stressors, helping plants to be more resilient in the face of stressors and threats to survival.

The exposure of plants to unfavorable environmental conditions increases the production of reactive oxygen species (ROS). As a result, the ROS detoxification process in plants is essential for the protection of plant cells against the toxic effect of ROS. The ROS detoxification systems in plants include enzymatic and non-enzymatic antioxidants. Non-enzymatic antioxidants involved include phenolic compounds, flavonoids, alkaloids, tocopherol and carotenoids. The antioxidant defense systems work in concert to control the cascades of uncontrolled oxidation and protect plant cells from oxidative damage by scavenging of ROS.

Apart from antioxidants, plants contain a multitude of bioactive substances, with a variety of proven properties such as anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial and aromatic, which are part of their resilience mechanisms for survival and defense. The combination of the many substances makes plants polyvalent to different stressors and threats to survival.

Many plants produce essential oils, which contain those bioactive substances to protect them from stressors and disease in a more concentrated form. Essential oils are volatile oils, which can be extracted from plants by distillation. These oils have a long history as food preservatives and today many of them are classified as Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS) by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Applying the secret of plants to support animal resilience

On a cellular level, animals experience similar type of stress reactions to plants. Stressors, such as heat, dietary changes, weaning, transition period and mycotoxins will cause an increase in the production of ROS, trigger inflammatory responses and increase permeability of cells in the gut. This again can make the animal more susceptible to disease.

Extracting essential oils from plants containing the very same bioactive components, that are helping plants to cope and resist stressors, and applying them to animal nutrition concepts, can help to support the resilience of animals. Gut agility activators are new nutritional concepts based on some of the mechanisms to plant resilience and are specifically designed to improve the animal’s adaptability to stressors. This then provides a way to support animal resilience by nutritional means.

Related articles

Resilience – economic value in animal production 

Strategies for greater robustness and laying persistency in layers 

Labour shortage drives the need for cow resilience 

How some cows can give heat stress the cold shoulder 

Labour shortage drives the need for cow resilience

Milking cows is not as appealing as it used to be. As a result, highly skilled labour is more difficult to come by for dairy farms. Still the number of cows on dairy farms is increasing. So, caring for cow health, wellbeing and optimal performance in a profitable way is becoming more challenging. However, something the dairy sector apparently is not short of, is the courage to adopt new technologies. And that has really been to the advantage of the dairy sector, when tackling labour issues.

But there is another way of approaching the issue of labour and that is to breed and manage for “easy-care” cows. Cows that are easy to care for and manage can cut right down on input costs, such as labour, medical and vet bills, whilst at the same time maintain high wellbeing and productivity in cows more consistently. This is where resilience in cows matters.

Geneticists are starting to take resilience seriously and so are nutritionists. After all cows are what they eat. Feeding for resilience can make a difference to the amount of care a cow requires, as well as to the consistency and longevity of her performance.

Digital cow care

Dairy farmers have one of the highest rates of tech adoption. Maybe this is partly because there are some amazing new technologies out there that help farmers monitor their cows. Clever and innovative ways of applying imaging with computer vision, artificial intelligence and sensors to collecting data from individual cows, can help to monitor large numbers of cows. The data can be used to detect health problems quickly, whether cows are on heat or started calving so action can be taken in a timely manner.

These new technologies are improving the way labour is utilized on a day to day basis and allows dairy farms to get the work done with fewer high-skilled labourers. They can save costs on labour, but also on feed, as tighter monitoring of cows can lead to less wastage. Other benefits mentioned from the application of these technologies is that cows are less stressed as a result of fewer interactions with humans and sensors are less biased in their observations than humans.

Easy-care cows

Replacing hard to come by labour with digital technologies and assistants is one way to stay on top of cow performance and health in a profitable way. However, if the data alerts to problems with cows, appropriate action still needs to be taken, which again means labour time. The other alternative is to keep cows that are easier to manage and have fewer problems.

But how can we select for cows that are easier to manage? This is a question that research groups in Wageningen and in Australia are currently investigating. The good news is, that they have concluded that it is possible. Key to this was finding a way to measure resilience in cows.

Resilience a key trait

Resilience was defined by the Wageningen research group as “The capacity of the animal to be minimally affected by disturbances/challenges or to rapidly return to the state it was in before exposure to a disturbance.” This again is determined by the adaptive capacity of the cow.

The adaptive capacity is the mechanism of the animal that empowers it to cope with internal or external disturbances, stressors or with changes in the environment. Studies showed that variance in daily milk production is heritable and can be used to breed for resilient cows. More resilient cows having a lower variance (lower fluctuations) in milk production over time. Therefore, resilience can be measured based on deviations of expected production and observed production over a time period.

Technological advances facilitate the increase in the number of observations that can be made on individual animals to more accurately estimate deviations and consequently genetic parameters. Routine data collection form automatic milking systems (AMS) and automatic feeding systems (AFS) are the most well-known and well-developed examples.

Animal breeders expect more rapid progress with measurements from wearable sensors, which as mentioned above are already being used for monitoring animal behaviour, physiological changes and detecting health and disease status in animals. Sensors have been helpful to measure average eating time and ear temperature in the transition period before calving. The data derived from this suggests that it could be used as indicators for resilience in cows during the transition period and to predict problems during early lactation.

Feeding for cow resilience

Finding additional ways of improving the adaptive capacity of cows, e.g. by nutritional means, could speed up the process of reaching the goal for resilience in cows. New nutritional concepts, such as gut agility activators, are designed to support the adaptive capacity and hence resilience of the cow by nutritional means.

They help the cow to adapt to nutritional challenges by minimising stress reactions such as oxidative stress and reduced feed intake, that would otherwise impact performance, health and wellbeing of the cow. Heat stress, transition period, energy deficiency and mycotoxins are known factors which normally lead to increased oxidative stress and or a reduction in feed intake.

Feeding a gut agility activator to cows facing those type of challenges, has been shown to maintain high milk component yields and low somatic cell counts, indicating that the cows were able to cope better with the stressors, i.e. were more resilient.

Keep yourself and cows agile

Darwin’s principle – „It is not the strongest that survive but the ones most adaptable to change”, has more relevance in the ever faster changing world of today than it had before. The safest bet to keep yourself and your cows in the game in the face of unpredictability is to support and manage the adaptive capacity of your cows and of yourself. In other words, agility or the ability to adapt to challenges and change is key to longer term success.

Staying open to continuous learning and new technologies will help to keep yourself agile. Rethinking how we breed and feed cows to foster resilience will keep cows agile. And there are already great technologies out there that can help monitor the progress we make in this.

by Gwendolyn Jones, Published in International Dairy Topics, May 2019, Positive Action

References

Jones, (2019) Harnessing the power of plant resilience for animal resilience

Van Dixhoorn et al (2018). Indicators of resilience during the transition period in dairy cows: A case study.

#Heatawarenessday – Are your birds prepared?

#heatawarenessday is today Friday 31st of May. The Heat Awareness Day is observed on the last Friday in May every year to remind us of rising temperatures due to climate change. The day was created in order to spread awareness to overcome high-temperature related issues.

The U.S. livestock production industry incurs an estimated total annual economic loss of $1.69 to $2.36 billion due to heat stress.

Heat stress in broilers and laying hens

Heat stress is one of the most important environmental factors impacting on performance of chicken. One of the main effects is reduced feed intake, with subsequent drops in growth rate, egg quality and egg production. Broilers subjected to chronic heat stress had a significant reduction of feed intake of −16.4%. Many studies have shown impaired growth performance in broilers subjected to heat stress. In laying hens, a 12-day heat stress period caused a daily feed intake reduction of 28.58 g/bird, resulting in a 28.8% decrease in egg production.

In general, birds react similarly to heat stress, but express individual variation of intensity and duration of responses, which may also be affected by intensity and duration of the heat stress event. increasing evidence indicates that much of the variation in response to heat stress is apparently genetically based.
Under high temperatures as the bird’s body attempts to maintain its thermal homeostasis, increased levels of reactive oxygen species (ROS) occur. Consequently, the body enters a stage of oxidative stress, and starts producing and releasing heat shock proteins (HSP) to try and protect itself from the deleterious cellular effects of ROS.

Oxidative stress is the starting point of the intestinal permeability dysfunctional process. Under heat stress conditions, increased concentrations of ROS occur leading to increased intestinal permeability, which in turn facilitates the translocation of bacteria from the intestinal tract and inflammation.

The detrimental impact of heat stress on bird performance, urges producers to implement suitable managemental strategies to minimize the production losses incurred through heat stress in the poultry industry.

Heat resilience in chickens

As breeding goals increased production efficiency, the susceptibility towards heat stress also increased in domestic chicken. So, in the current changing climate scenario, researchers are looking for a permanent solution to heat stress to sustain poultry production longer term. Differences between genotypes of chicken in heat resilience provide evidence for the possibility of genetic intervention, when it comes to heat stress in chicken. Several superior thermo-tolerant genes have already been identified by researchers such as the naked neck gene, frizzle gene or the dwarf gene, which made the bird resistant to heat stress through slow and reduced feathering, curling the feather so as to improve the heat dissipation and reduction in body size to minimize metabolic heat production. Further genes were identified that increase the thermo-tolerance of birds without compromising the production potential.

Feeding for resilience to heat stress

New nutritional concepts, such as gut agility activators, are designed to support the adaptive capacity and hence resilience of the bird by nutritional means. They help the bird to adapt to nutritional challenges by minimizing stress reactions including oxidative stress and reduced feed intake, that would otherwise impact performance, health and wellbeing of the bird. The gut agility activator Anco FIT Poultry has shown to maintain high feed intakes and reduce oxidative stress in birds under heat stress compared to control animals and thus maintain higher growth performance.

References

Felver-Ghant, J.N. et al. (2012). Genetic variations alter physiological responses following heat stress in 2 strains of laying hens, Poultry Science
Lara, L.J. and Rostagno, M.H. (2013). Impact of Heat Stress on Poultry Production, Animals MDPI
Vandana, G.D. and Sejian, V. (2018). Towards identifying climate resilient poultry birds. Journal of Dairy, Veterinary & Animal Research

Agile cows – Imagine a world where you control adaptation in cows

What if we could formulate diets for dairy cows that support the cow’s adaptation to challenges in the diet and her environment in a more desirable way for milk profits? We could expect more agile cows and more consistent performance in response to diet formulations throughout the production cycle.

Link to short video trailer of the article here

If the Titanic had had the pre-sense and adaptive cruise technology developed by Audi, it would have been able to anticipate the iceberg and reduce or avoid its impact. Hollywood would be short of one of its great movies, but the Titanic might still be cruising around today or at least would not be at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean. This forms the base for the development of a gut agility activator.

Agile version of Titanic

More than a hundred years ago the Titanic sunk, after colliding with an iceberg during its maiden voyage. Technologies that exist today to predict collisions and automatically adapt speed and change direction could have easily prevented such a disaster. Responsive and adaptive technologies are leading the development for increased agility in how we and machines are operating today. Agility in this context is the capacity to anticipate and adapt to changes or challenges quickly for competitive advantage and minimize damage to performance and efficiency.

Agile dairy cow

We formulate diets of dairy cows to meet nutrient requirements for expected performance outcomes. However, many times the expected outcomes are not reached, due to the cow facing challenges through the diet or her environment, which could not be predicted in the diet formulation, but affect her performance, efficiency or even her health. Depending on the cow’s own coping and defense mechanisms she will be affected to a greater or lesser extent. Some cows maybe genetically more “agile” than others and able to cope with stressors more efficiently. To those who are more like the Titanic or are under high performance pressure and limited in their agility, dietary and environmental stressors will be more detrimental for performance and health. This begs for strategies to improve the cow’s agility.

Feeding for agility

Knowing which challenges or stressors to anticipate is winning half the battle. Determining their potential impact and the detrimental reactions they can cause to the efficiency and performance of the dairy cow helps to find predictive ways to mitigate the consequences. Common stress reactions in the dairy cow to stressors in the feed and in the environment, are oxidative stress, inflammation, shifts in rumen microflora and efficiency at the cellular level and reduction in feed intake. They will all lead to wasted energy and increased maintenance energy or a reduction in energy intake, which again will have consequences for milk yield and quality. A greater understanding of the underlying mechanisms can advance our ability to formulate dietary concepts to interfere with the way cows adapt in a predictive manner for more consistent and profitable outcomes.

Antagonistic DMI adaptation

The understanding of the regulation of dry matter intake (DMI) is very important in
ruminant nutrition, due to its importance for milk production. More recent research shows that certain gut peptides or gastrointestinal hormones play a role in DMI regulation in ruminants. For example, it was proven that cholecystokinin (CCK) has a regulatory effect on feed intake in dairy cattle fed high fat diets. High fat diets increased plasma CCK concentrations and decreased dry matter intake. Blockage of endogenous CCK activity at the CCKA receptor with a synthetic antagonist reversed fat-induced depression of dry matter intake. Since certain plant extracts are known to have an antagonistic effect to CCK in humans, they may also offer a solution to DMI regulation in ruminants, particularly in the face of fat or DON (deoxynivalenol) in the diet, which are known to increase CCK activity and decrease feed intake. They might help to adapt the cow’s normal response to these dietary factors to a more favourable one in terms of DMI and milk production.

Rumen function optimisation

Any diet factors that affect rumen fermentation can change milk fat and protein levels. Any reduction in rumen microbial protein production from nutrition or feeding management imbalances will reduce milk protein by way of less microbial protein for the cow to digest and depress fat by limiting VFA (volatile fatty acid) production in the rumen. Scientific literature indicates that certain essential oils and their components can have a positive effect on rumen fermentation and microbial protein synthesis. This has been particularly the case, when diets with high concentrate levels were fed and rumen pH was low. Considering the fact, that the mycotoxin DON in diets can also affect rumen fermentation and microbial synthesis negatively and the capacity of rumen microbes to detoxify DON decreases with high concentrate diets, certain essential oils and their components maybe used to adapt rumen function to dietary challenges and also reduce the impact of DON on rumen function.

Antioxidative capacity boost

Adding antioxidative components from herbs and spices to the diet can help to increase the antioxidative capacity of cows, neutralizing the damage of reactive oxygen species (ROS) or free radicals that would otherwise occur. This can mean a huge boost to the cow’s agility, since oxidative stress is a very common stress reaction to many stressors the cow will encounter throughout her productive life. Certain antioxidative components from herbs and spices can enhance the antioxidative capacity of the dairy cow. As oxidative stress has been associated with higher somatic cell counts (SCC) and a reduction in feed intake, this can translate into beneficial effects for milk quality and milk solid yield, particularly if the cow is facing challenges. The safety value for performance and cost-efficiency of the diet improves.

Results to be expected

The results to be expected from diets designed to increase the agility of the dairy cow by nutritional means were tested by adding a gut agility activator to dairy cow rations in several different countries in field and research conditions. The gut agility activator Anco FIT contained an adaption formula comprising bioactive substances from herbs and spices with known positive effects on antioxidative capacity, rumen efficiency and appetite regulation. Milk fat and protein yields were increased in most cases, due to improved milk fat and protein contents, without negative impacts on milk yield and in some cases milk yields were even increased. In addition to that improvements to SCC were seen on dairy farms with higher levels of SCC and milk yields. The results suggest that further developing the concept of cow agility by nutritional means is a way for gaining greater control on milk profits from diet formulations.

By Gwendolyn Jones, Published in Positive Action International Dairy Topics 2018

How some cows can give heat stress the cold shoulder

Some cows are cooler than others in the face of summer heat. What is their secret to resist heat stress? Scientists are beginning to discover that resilience plays an important role in dairy cows, when it comes to coping with rising temperatures.

Climate change drives research into heat stress

As June approaches temperatures are rising and so is the risk for heat stress in cows. Temperatures are rising, not just now, 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. Not surprisingly several large-scale research projects are currently under way in different parts of the world for a better understanding of heat stress in cattle and more importantly to find ways of managing it more effectively. The goal being to maintain cow welfare, health and productivity in a sustainable way as temperatures rise. Strategies to mitigate heat stress include physical protection, nutritional management and more recently the potential for genetic improvement in heat tolerance is researched.

Milk yield and quality spoils with heat stress

Heat-stressed dairy cows produce less milk and the quality of their milk is reduced. On top of that heat stress can interfere with the cow’s ability to conceive and can increase susceptibility to disease. This can lead to significant economic losses. Consequently, there is considerably incentive to increase the capacity of dairy cows to maintain productivity and fitness in the face of stresses associated with climate change to support food security.

Science turns to resilience for heat tolerance

Several research groups across the world, for example in the UK, India, United States and Australia are researching the challenge of enhancing the resilience of livestock to climatic variability and climate change. They all essentially agree that animal agriculture’s adaptation to climate change should involve technological advances for climate resilient animals. However, continued selection for greater performance in the absence of consideration for heat tolerance will result in greater susceptibility to heat stress.

Scientists at the University of Armidale claim that for the concept of resilience the animal’s reactions with its environment are central. They characterise resilience as the capacity of the animal to return rapidly to its pre-challenge state following short-term exposure to a challenging situation. Therefore, resilience is a comparative measure of differences between animals in the impact of a challenge. Resilience can arise due to lower sensitivity or better adaptability to the challenge. Thus, resilience relies particularly on the reaction of the animal to stressors. Since, stress responses increase disease susceptibility, improving resilience of farm animals could also provide benefits for their health.

At the cellular level, acute environmental change initiates a “heat shock” or cellular stress response. Changes in gene expression associated with a reaction to an environmental stressor involves acute responses at the cellular level as well as changes in gene expression across a variety of organs and tissues associated with the acclimation response.

Gene expression profiling belongs to novel the approaches to identify higher number of transcripts and pathways related to stress tolerance mechanisms. It is known that genes reacting to a certain stress differ between organisms, species, breeds and even genotypes. The differences show in more efficient stress signal perception and transcriptional changes that can lead to successful adaptive response and adaptations and eventually further tolerance. Newer genomics approaches like next-generation sequencing (NGS) hold great promise for accelerating search for genes related to heat tolerance-related traits. NGS has been used to study variants in cattle to identify genes that contribute to heat tolerance.

Feeding for heat resilience

Improving the adaptive capacity of cows by nutritional means, can help to support resilience in cows to maintain performance under rising temperatures. Gut agility activators, such as Anco FIT are designed to support the cow to adapt to challenges including heat stress more efficiently by minimising stress reactions including oxidative stress at the cellular level, shifts in the rumen balance and reduced feed intake. Those stress reactions would otherwise impact performance, health and wellbeing of the cow. Research has shown that milk fat depression during heat stress can be linked to depressed rumen health. Therefore, optimising rumen function with a gut agility activator can help to reduce the negative impact of heat stress on milk fat and has been proven to be particularly effective, when cows were fed high concentrate diets. Feeding Anco FIT to cows in the hotter months, has been shown to maintain high milk fat and protein yields and low somatic cell counts, indicating that cows with Anco FIT in the diet were able to cope better with the heat, i.e. were more resilient.

Cows love a good on-off sprinkle

Of course, also physical strategies to help reduce heat stress are continuously being evaluated and improved. One of the most effective methods of cooling cows during summer is the use of water sprinklers. When given the choice, cows spend more and more time under sprinklers as the ambient temperature rises. Not having the sprinklers on continuously is more effective in terms of cooling cows, and it also helps to conserve water. The sprinklers should cycle on and off to wet cows and then let them dry off. Cooling is more effective if cows are soaked to the skin during the on time and then evaporative cooling occurs during the off time with fan air. Sprinkler and fan cooling resulted in lower body temperatures and respiration rates, improved dry matter intake and milk yield. However, sprinklers are not recommended in environments where relative humidity could reach over 75% due to the increase in humidity associated with these systems.

Strategies for greater robustness and laying persistency in layers

Goals for robustness in birds are being called for to improve animal health and welfare through genetic selection. However, robustness can also be supported by nutritional approaches designed to promote the adaptive capacity of hens. Commercial trials in layer breeding hens have shown that this nutritional strategy leads to improved laying persistency.

Why robustness matters

The combination of breeding for increased production and the intensification of housing conditions for laying hens have not been without consequences. Concerns about animal welfare as well as risks to human health arising from antibiotic-resistant bacteria and disease outbreaks are paving the way to a new research focus and the introduction of robustness or resilience as a desirable trait in animal production.

The concept of robustness includes individual traits of an animal that are relevant for health and welfare. According to Knap 2012 robustness is the ability to combine a high production potential with resilience to stressors. Robustness is based on the possibility to respond adequately to a stressor and is aiming at less disturbed functioning if challenged with a stressor. This leads to a competitive advantage, because maladaptation due to stressors can have negative impacts on animal behavior, metabolism and immunology. Hence, why robustness is rapidly gaining importance in animal production.

The main characteristics important for robustness of production animals are productivity and the capacity to adapt in a wide variety of conditions. Differences in conditions can be due to climate, housing facilities, disease pressure, exposure to pathogens and differences in feed quality and composition. In this context adaptation can be described as a mechanism of the animal that empowers it to cope with internal or external disturbances, stressors or with changes in the environment.

According to a research group at Wageningen University a multi-disciplinary approach is crucial to reveal the determinants of adaptive capacity in farm animals. Adaptive capacity is determined by the genetic background of the bird. However, expression of adaptive capacity and therefore robustness can be supported or inhibited by the actual conditions the birds live in (e.g. nutritional status, social environment, disease pressure, etc.).

Breeding for robustness

Research findings have indicated that an animal’s welfare is dependent on its genetic characteristics, environmental factors and genetic-environmental interactions. This means an animal has the capacity to adapt to its environment. Breeding programs that ensure that animal well-being will improve, while at the same time improving production traits, are multi-level and multi-trait selection, directed at improving associative effects.

Research also showed that group selection increases robustness as indicated by the overall greater ability to cope with stressors. For instance, group selected laying hens had a lower mortality in response to heat exposure in multiple-hen cages compared to the control. This suggests that group selection can be an effective method to increase robustness in laying hens.

Genomic selection, based on dense genetic markers, will allow for more rapid improvement of traits that are expensive or more difficult to measure, or have a low heritability such as pecking, disease resistance, robustness and bone strength.

Feeding for robustness

Effective implementation of robustness into a breeding goal requires large scale genetic research, which for most traits is labour intensive and expensive. Therefore, finding additional ways of improving the adaptive capacity of birds, could speed up the process of reaching the goal for robustness in birds. New nutritional concepts, such as a gut agility activators, are designed to support the adaptive capacity and hence robustness of the bird by nutritional means. They help the bird to adapt to nutritional challenges by minimizing stress reactions such as oxidative stress and reduced feed intake, that would otherwise impact performance, health and wellbeing of the bird. Heat stress, high stocking density and mycotoxins are known factors which normally lead to increased oxidative stress and a reduction in feed intake.

Agile birds ahead in laying persistency

Longer laying cycles can help to cut costs, so they are imperative 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. Benefits of genetic selection for improved laying persistence and stability in egg quality can only be realized if they are matched by improvements in hen nutrition. Poor bird health and environmental stress affect egg formation and the ability of the hen to maintain persistency. This can be aggravated by nutritional stressors in the diet, such as dietary changes, reduced nutrient digestibility, endotoxins, antinutritional factors and mycotoxins. Managing the resilience in birds to those stressors by nutritional means can help to support a better laying persistency.

Adding a gut agility activator, designed to minimize common stress reactions in birds, to the diet of a commercial parent layer flock has been shown to improve laying persistency in the late laying period. This indicates that supporting the adaptive capacity or agility of birds with a gut agility activator improves the chance to maintain laying persistency for longer.

More rapid progress anticipated

So far it has been difficult to quantify robustness directly. However, measurements from wearable sensors and other sources together with the emergence of novel analytical tools may become a game changer for measuring robustness. The livestock industry is already taking advantage of wearable sensors with multiple uses ranging from stress detection, behavior analysis, physiological monitoring and detecting health and disease status of animals.

A barrier to wearable sensors in the poultry industry is the number of birds that are managed on large poultry operations, as fitting every bird with sensory devices is impracticable. Despite this fact, fitting a proportion of the flock with sensors is possible, and the data generated from these birds can be used to assess total flock health.

These tools are likely to enable rapid progress for the management of robustness in farm animals and may also invite rethinking of how we can support and increase the adaptive capacity of laying hens.

Gwendolyn Jones, Published in International Hatchery Practice, Positive Action Publications 2019

Resilience – economic value in animal production

Animal breeding is showing an increasing appetite for resilience to be included as a trait in breeding goals. Scientists working in animal genetics are pointing out the economic value of resilience on farms, where labour time is restricted.

Resilience genes in redheads

Researchers are discovering what makes some humans more resilient than others. For instance, the MC1R gene found in human redheads has been associated with certain characteristics that improve resilience. Redheads have the genetic advantage that they naturally produce their own vitamin D. Most other people need to make sure that they consume plenty of vitamin D, especially when modern lifestyles and weather prevent them from obtaining enough vitamin D from sunlight. Since vitamin D plays an important role in health and fertility, redheads are more resilient because they need less vitamin D than the rest of us.

Better characterisation of resilient phenotypes in farm animals should provide the opportunity to look for similar gene differences in these species.

Can we breed for resilience?

Current developments and future trends in the livestock industry are giving way to a new research focus in genetics for livestock production. This research is looking to develop selection tools for farmers to improve the resilience of animals in their production system.

So far  breeding goals have not included resilience. However, research groups from Australia and the Netherlands have recently demonstrated the potential for resilience in breeding goals and suggested ways of how we could genetically select for it in livestock animals.

Resilience definition in animal production

“The capacity of the animal to be minimally affected by disturbances/challenges or to rapidly return to the state pertained before exposure to a disturbance” (Berghof et al 2019).

Colditz and Hine (2016) describe resilience as a comparative measure of differences between animals in the impact of a challenge and the result of lower sensitivity or better adaptability to a challenge. The biological processes underlying resilience relate to adaptive responses that occur to minimize the impact of a stressor.

How to measure resilience in farm animals

From the definition of resilience as reduced sensitivity to potential disturbances, it follows that the desirable phenotype could be identified by measuring the rate of recovery to baseline and normality of behavioural, physiological, immune or production traits following the disturbance. Instead of measuring the magnitude of these variables while the animal attempts to cope with the stressor.

More recent scientific papers say resilience can be measured based on deviations of expected production and observed production over a period of time. One indicator for more resilient animals could be that they have a smaller variance in deviations of production traits over a period of time than the population average.

For example, there are favorable correlations between the residual variance of feed intake and feed duration with mortality and the number of health treatments in pigs in a challenge environment. This suggests that residual variance of feed intake and feed duration can be used to select for more resilient pigs.

Recent technological advances facilitate the increase in the number of observations that can be made on individual animals to more accurately estimate deviations and consequently genetic parameters. Routine data collection form automatic milking systems (AMS) and automatic feeding systems (AFS) for cattle and pigs are the most well-known and well-developed examples. Animal breeders expect more rapid progress with measurements from wearable sensors, which are already being used for monitoring animal behaviour, physiological changes and detecting health and disease status in animals.

Economic value of resilience

Researchers point out that when determining the economic value of traits, care needs to be taken to avoid double counting. They suggest that the economic value of resilience can be based on labour costs associated with observing animals that show signs of disease or other problems. These could be visual signs or alerts generated by sensors, automatic feeding systems or automatic milking systems.

Labour time is limited. Therefore, farmers have a requirement for healthy and easy-to-manage animals, especially when the number of animals per farm employee is increasing. A reduction in time spent on an animal with an alert will reduce costs associated with labour. Improved resilience results in easier to manage farm animals, which would reduce labour requirements and thus allow more animals per farm. Consequently, selecting for more resilient animals can increase farm profit.

Further reading:

How you can support resilience in laying hens

Labour shortage drives the need for cow resilience to optimize performance

Progressive Dairyman: How to support dairy cows in their defense against DON

New technical article from Anco published by the Progressive Dairyman.

High producing dairy cows are more susceptible to negative impact from stressors in their feed and in their environment. But what matters for performance and efficiency is how the cows respond. Feeding the right natural bioactive substances can help the animal adapt its response in a way that helps maintain milk quality and component yields. This article focuses on how to adapt to the mycotoxin deoxynivalenol (DON) for milk profits.

Link to full article: Taking the sting out of DON for milk profits

Further reading

Effects of oxidative stress in response to mycotoxins in dairy cows

Diets that keep your cows agile for high milk quality

 

Scientific abstract – Phytogenic premix effects on gene expression of intestinal antioxidant enzymes and broiler meat antioxidant capacity

The aim of this study was to investigate the effects of administration level of a dietary phytogenic premix (PP) characterized by carvacrol and thymol (Anco FIT – Poultry) on the gene expression profile of antioxidant enzymes (i.e. CAT, SOD, GPX2, GPX7) and transcription factor Nrf2 at intestinal level. In addition, broiler liver and meat lipid oxidation and total antioxidant capacity (TAC) were determined.

Depending on PP inclusion level (0, 750, 1000 and 2000 mg/kg diet) in a three stage feeding program formulated to meet Cobb 500 nutritional requirements, treatments were: PP-0, P-750, PP-1000 and PP-2000. Feed and water were available ad libitum. Each one of the 4 treatments had 125 broilers arranged in 5 replicates of 25 chickens each. At 42d, 2 birds per treatment replicate were analyzed for gene expression and 4 birds per treatment replicate were pooled for biochemical analyses.

Data were analyzed by ANOVA, taking the treatment as fixed effect. Statistical significant effects (P≤0.05) were further analyzed and means were compared using Tukey HSD test. In addition, polynomial contrasts tested the linear and quadratic effect of PP inclusion levels.

Gene expression of SOD was up-regulated in the duodenum (P=0.027), jejunum (P=0.026) and ceca (P=0.023) in PP-1000 and PP-750 compared to PP-0. Expression of GPX2 was up-regulated in the duodenum (P=0.032) and jejunum (P=0.013) in PP-1000 and in ceca (P=0.006) in PP-2000 compared to PP-0, respectively. In addition, Nrf2 was up-regulated in ceca (P=0.024) in PP-1000 compared to PP-0. Intestinal mucosa TAC was higher in duodenum (P=0.011) and ceca (P=0.050) in PP-1000 compared to PP-0.

Lipid oxidation was delayed in a linear pattern with increasing PP inclusion level in breast (PL=0.020) and liver (PL=0.046). Moreover, the PP inclusion level resulted in higher breast (P=0.005), thigh (P=0.002) and liver (P=0.040) TAC. In particular, breast and thigh TAC increased in a quadratic pattern reaching plateau at PP-1000, whereas liver TAC continued to increase linearly.

Conclusion

Overall, a consistent PP inclusion effect on meat, liver and intestinal antioxidant capacity has been shown with PP-1000 being the most effective.

Authors

Konstantinos C. Mountzouris, Vasileios Paraskeuas, Eirini Griela, George Papadomichelakis and Konstantinos Fegeros

Department of Nutritional Physiology and Feeding, Agricultural University of Athens, 118 55 Athens, Greece

Presented at the EPC 2018 in Dubrovnik, September 2018