Feeding sows and piglets for piglet resilience to weaning stress

How piglets cope with weaning stress has a significant impact on their subsequent performance. A commercial sow trial supervised by the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil evaluated piglet pre-and post-weaning performance in response to a feeding regime involving the gut agility activator Anco FIT.

Stressors at weaning

During the weaning process the pig is subjected to a number of different stressors: Abrupt separation from the sow, transportation and handling stress, change in diet, social hierarchy stress, co-mingling with pigs from other litters, change in environment, increased exposure to pathogens, and dietary or environmental antigens.

What matters is how the piglet adapts to the weaning stress

The piglet must adapt to the above stressors rapidly in order to be productive, healthy and efficient. On the cellular and gut level, the stressors at weaning will cause stress reactions, such as oxidative stress, reduced gut integrity, reduced feed intake and inflammatory responses. The extent of these reactions will determine the impact of weaning stress on subsequent health and performance of the piglet. This means that managing the piglet to reduce the stress reactions, will lead to a more resilient pig, i.e. lower fluctuations in performance and better health.

Nutritional solution for greater resilience

A gut agility activator is a feed solution designed to help the animal to adapt to stressors more efficiently by nutritional means. Part of its formula is a combination of bioactive compounds derived from herbs and spices known to reduce common stress reactions, such as antioxidative stress and reduced gut integrity.

Feeding the gut agility activator to highly prolific sows during lactation is expected to improve energy available for milk production due to reducing the extent of stress reactions in sows. As a result pre-weaning piglet growth is better, which again helps the piglets to be stronger at weaning.

In the post weaning diet for piglets, the gut agility activator is expected to help reduce the stress reactions in response to weaning stressors on the cellular and gut level in piglets. This should then increase the energy available for growth, since the stress reactions would normally increase maintenance energy and make piglets more susceptible to disease.

Evaluation of a gut agility activator on a sow farm in Brazil

The animal science department of the University of Sao Paulo evaluated the gut agility activator Anco FIT in a feeding program designed to improve adaptation to weaning in piglets in a commercial sow farm.

Experimental design

100 sows (PICxCamborough) were split into two groups 14 days pre-farrowing. One group was fed a control corn-soy diet and the other group was fed the control diet including 1kg/t of Anco FIT until the end of lactation. Average litter size per sow after fostering was 14 piglets. Piglets were weighed after fostering at birth and at weaning (26.5 days). Piglets stayed within groups post weaning. Piglets from sows fed Anco FIT received Anco FIT in their diets post weaning. Both groups of piglets were weighed at day 22 and day 33 post-weaning.

Results

Piglets from sows fed Anco FIT in their diets tended to have higher weaning weights despite being on average 1 day younger at weaning than piglets from control sows. In the post-weaning phase Anco FIT piglets grew significantly faster than control pigs and had significantly higher weights at day 22 and day 33 post weaning (+9.2% and +9.3% respectively). This was mainly due to a significantly increased feed conversion ratio in Anco FIT piglets post-weaning.

Conclusion

A feeding strategy comprising the application of the gut agility activator Anco FIT to sows diets in lactation, followed by adding Anco FIT to piglet diets post weaning improved overall piglet performance from birth to day33 post weaning compared to the control feeding regime on a commercial sow farm. The improved FCR seen in Anco FIT piglets in the post weaning period might be explained by Anco FIT helping to reduce stress reactions on the cellular and gut level and thus saving energy for growth.

Related articles

Anco FIT – Managing cost- effectiveness of pig diets
The biological stress of early weaned piglets. Journal of Animal Science, 2013  

Impact of the mycotoxin DON in laying hens

Studies have shown a negative impact of deoxynivalenol, DON in laying hens, however results vary considerably between studies. Many scientific papers state that chickens are less sensitive to mycotoxins compared to other species.

So, should egg producers worry about DON in feed? The answer is, it depends. Here are some of the factors that need to be considered to assess the risk of DON in feed to the performance of laying hens and egg safety.

Factors determining the impact of DON in laying hens

Effects of DON on performance in laying hens varies considerably between studies. Whereas some studies report very little impact, other studies showed a significant impact of DON on laying rate/egg production, egg shell quality and weight gains in laying hens.

There are some factors that can explain the variance seen in results between studies examining the effect of DON on laying hens. Depending on the level of presence of these factors in the studies, the effect of DON on laying hen performance can be significant.

• Level of DON in feed and co-contamination with other mycotoxins
• Natural versus purified form of DON
• Length of exposure to DON in feed
• Stage of egg production
• Type of breed

Differences in toxic effects may be because some studies used artificially contaminated grain or a single source of contaminated grain. Artificially contaminated diets with purified DON are less toxic than naturally contaminated diets. This is mainly because the use of a blend of naturally contaminated grains increases the potential for other mycotoxins being present. Having multiple mycotoxins present can increase the effect of DON present as a result of toxicological synergies arising from interactions with the other mycotoxins. Egg production was negatively affected in hens fed a diet containing sorghum that was contaminated with zearalenone (ZON) at a level of 1.1 mg/kg and DON at a level of 0.3 mg/kg. The effect in this study was thought to be due to the synergistic effect of DON and ZON.

Longer periods of exposure to DON in the diet generally showed a greater impact on the performance of laying hens compared to studies where the hens were only exposed to DON for a few weeks. Another study comparing the effect of DON on laying hens between stages of production showed that DON had more of an effect in months 7-12, than in the first 6 months of production.

What is also of interest to note is that not all breeds of laying hens respond the same to DON. For example, a study comparing Lohmann Brown laying hens with LSL Lohmann laying hens demonstrated that Lohmann Brown laying hens are more sensitive to DON.

Underlying mechanisms for negative responses

Chickens are less sensitive compared to other species. This can be attributed to differences in DON absorption, distribution, metabolism and elimination. Nevertheless, there are still studies that have shown negative effects on laying hen performance. This has been attributed to some extent to a reduction in feed intake in association with DON in diets. Other studies have indicated that DON has an influence on intestinal morphology of chickens and nutrient absorption (glucose and amino acids), which can reduce nutrient efficiency of laying hens. For example, it was shown that DON can alter the structure of the duodenal and jejunal mucosa in the form of shorter and thinner villi.

Disease susceptibility in response to DON in feed

DON has been shown to impair immunological functions in chickens. The impact of DON on the immune system ranges from immunosuppression to immunostimulation, according to its concentration, duration and time of exposure.

An important immunotoxic effect of DON in diets for laying hens is the reduction of white
blood cell and total lymphocyte numbers. On top of that low doses of DON upregulate the expression of inflammation related genes and proinflammatory cytokines.

DON is shown to suppress the antibody response to infectious bronchitis vaccine (IBV) and to Newcastle disease virus (NDV) in laying hens (3.5 to 14 mg of DON/kg feed), respectively.

The dysregulation of the immune system together with the negative impact of DON on gut function can lead to increasing the susceptibility of poultry flocks to infectious diseases.

Does DON in feed pose risks for egg safety and human health?

DON can cause health problems such as nausea, gastrointestinal upset and diarrhea in humans. Therefore, it is important to ensure that it is not transmitted from chicken feed into eggs at a rate that can cause health risks for humans.

A 2018 study from China looking at mycotoxin levels in eggs in three different areas in China (Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Shanghai) reported DON, 15-AcDON, and Zearelone as the most frequently observed mycotoxins in eggs. The highest levels of contamination were noted in Shanghai with up to 50% testing positive. Subsequent risk assessment for humans concluded that the risk of causing problems to humans in all three areas was low based on the levels of mycotoxins that were found in eggs and normal egg consumption. The DON intake through eggs was still below the provisional maximum tolerable daily intake. However, the study did highlight the need to monitor DON in feed and to restrict permitted levels of DON in feed.

Scientific studies looking at the carry-over effect of DON from feed to eggs in laying hens concluded that the carry-over effect of DON into eggs is very low. Such that providing that the DON level of chicken feed does not exceed current guidelines (5ppm) there is certainly no health risk to humans.

A very recent study carried out in 2019 demonstrated that DON occurs mainly as its non-toxic metabolite DON-3Ss in eggs from laying hen fed DON contaminated feed.

Video:  How does the mycotoxin DON affect the performance of laying hens?

Please see second half of this video.

Related articles

Strategies for greater robustness and laying persistence in layers

How to advance your birds from doing great to agile

Mycotoxin kinetics: Did you know how quickly mycotoxins disappear?

The Toxicological Impacts of the Fusarium Mycotoxin, Deoxynivalenol, in Poultry Flocks with Special Reference to Immunotoxicity

The power of resilience and agility for farmers

The power of resilience helps us bounce back and move forward from challenging situations. This also depends on the capacity to adapt effectively to change and stressful situations or in other words it also depends on personal agility. With people working in agriculture, particularly farmers, facing a lot of uncertainty, new challenges and changes in consumer preferences and regulations, resilience is a key requirement to thrive and be successful. The good news is that resilience can be learned and developed.

Farmers themselves realise that they cannot sit back and be a passive partner to change. The question is what they can do personally to enhance their own ability to cope with change and adversity, which is covered further down in this article.

Importance of resilience in farming

Agricultural resilience is about equipping farmers to absorb and recover from shocks and stresses to their agricultural production and livelihoods. Several authorities across the world point to the growing importance of building resilience and adaptive capacity in rural communities and farming. There are also charities that are proactively supporting it, including the Prince’s Countryside Fund, who runs a farm resilience programme.

To become truly resilient, farm businesses require adaptability and transformability, is the argument of an EU‐wide group of scientists of 16 universities and research institutes from 11 European countries currently working together in the project SURE‐Farm. Previously policies and market instruments were mainly aimed at maintaining stability of the farm business. This group defines resilience for agriculture as maintaining the essential functions of EU farming systems in the face of increasingly complex and volatile economic, social, environmental and institutional challenges. Consultant firms also looking at other industries are stressing the importance of the ability to be agile and self-disrupt as critical for organizational resilience.

Adaptability in agriculture is the capacity to adjust responses to changing external drivers and internal processes and thereby allow for development along the current trajectory while continuing important functionalities.

Transformability is the capacity to create a fundamentally new system when environmental, economic, or social structures make the existing system untenable in order to provide important functionalities.

Obviously, resilience is becoming an important topic for people researching the sustainability and survival of rural communities and farming systems. Measures are being taken to improve our understanding of what makes a farm resilient, right down to improving the resilience of farm animals.

However, the resilience of people running the farm also has an important role to play. Here we want to discuss some of the factors that matter for the resilience of an individual and the steps farmers or any other individual can take to develop stronger personal resilience.

What defines a resilient person

Most people will define resilience as the ability to recover from setback, adapt well to change and keep going in the face of adversity and change.

However, a more modern take on resilience is: advancing (not just bouncing back) despite adversity.

What matters is how we respond to challenges and our outlook. Resilience requires that we reprogram ourselves so that the automatic stress response does not overwhelm us, and we are able to respond to a situation effectively.

A 2017 study including 800 adults from 42 countries, highlighted by the magazine Psychology Today, reveals the most important character strength for resilience to overcome life stress. They found that hope was a significant moderator of well-being in the face of negative life events. However, hope in this study did not just mean being optimistic about things getting better in the future. Here hope means having goals and pursuing them energetically and flexibly, finding many different pathways to getting positive results.

Doug Avery, a farmer from New Zealand who went through some very tough times because of drought, describes his path to resilience in his book “The resilient farmer”. He is currently touring and encouraging farmers to learn to be resilient and adapt in different parts of the world. Doug Avery also shares what resilient people do not do.

8 things resilient people don’t do (Doug Avery)

• Waste time feeling sorry for themselves. • Shy away from change. • Waste time on things they can’t control. • Dwell on the past. • Make the same mistakes, over and over. • Resent another’s success. • Give up after failure. • Feel the world owes them something.

How can we develop our personal resilience to adapt for the future

Many years of research point to the fact that resilience is built by attitudes, behaviors and social supports that can be adopted and cultivated by anyone. Resilience is learnable, but also involves a sense of safety and strong social support system.

Eventually all of us will face some form of adversity. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Resilience is about how we deal with adversity. So, it makes sense to develop resilience ahead of time, before facing a crisis.

Our innate biological response to change activates a stress reaction. Nevertheless, by building a mindset of resilience and acting with agility in the face of challenging and difficult situations, we can also turn adversities into advantages.

Something you can do straight away and is advocated by Psychology Today is:

1) Pick one or two life goals that are most important to you and describe as many different strategies as you can for achieving them.
2) Think about any obstacles you may face to achieving these goals.
3) Write down what coping strategies you can use to overcome these obstacles.
With this type of goal-oriented resilience, you can stay focused on what is important when facing a difficult situation.

The resilience institute developed a method for measuring resilience in people. One of their findings in a recent report is that the most resilient people reported a strong ability to focus, which was almost not existent in people with low resilience. Another interesting finding was that low resilience people report high amounts of fatigue, while highly resilient people reported very little fatigue. So, one simple step to resilience could also be to make sure to get enough quality sleep. Resilience training was reported to lower levels of depression, reduce sickness-related absence and increase self-esteem.

A very interesting insight was shared at this year’s Resilient Farmer Conference: Being resilient does not mean, that you do not need help. Quite the opposite, it is the resilient people who ask for help when they need it.

Having a strong support network and having people to talk to and ask for help is a key factor in making it through difficult times. Therefore, taking time to socialize and network to build your personal support network and good relationships is vital. Isolation will make you less resilient.

Looking after your mental health is just as important as looking after your physical health. A 2019 study from the University of Guelph in Canada involving 1132 farmers illustrates a critical need for research and interventions related to mental health of farmers. The average resilience scores of farmers in this Canadian study were lower than population norms reported for several general populations in the US. Other countries are also reporting concerns about the state of mental health in their farming communities.

Dairy Australia have some good points to build emotional resilience:
• Positive self-talk
• Focus on the things you can control – know what you can control and stop wasting energy on things you can’t
• Connecting with community – whether it is offline or online connect with positive people. The more people you interact with, the greater the likelihood that you will meet people who have experienced, survived and grown through similar experiences.

Find helplines

In the UK there are a number of organizations and charities that can offer support to farmers for mental health, which can be found on Twitter (for example: @FCNcharity, @dpjfoundation, @NFUtweets, @Ag_psych, @yellowwelliesuk). In Canada you can turn to @domoreag and in the US you can call FARM AID (1-800-327-6243, @FarmAid). This is not a complete list, but highlights that help is available to farmers. The important thing is to reach out for help if you need it.

More and more farmers are talking about mental health and support each other on #AgTwitter.

The power of resilience

Resilience provides a framework for personal well-being and success. It defines how you respond to adversity. In an era of rapid technological change, great uncertainty, economic, political and climatic turbulence resilience is increasingly becoming a highly valuable asset. Not acting to proactively develop your personal resilience, almost certainly will set you back in farming and your life in today’s and even more in the future world. Maintaining personal resilience needs to be an ongoing exercise in your life.

Related articles

The One Resilience Skill You Need to Overcome Life Stress

Stress, anxiety, depression, and resilience in Canadian farmers

Animal Resilience – Harnessing the power of plant resilience

Resilience – economic value in animal production

For better FCR invest in anti-oxidative capacity

Reducing antibiotic growth promotors in animal feed calls for the development of new strategies to improve feed conversion (FCR) in poultry production systems. This represents unique opportunities to explore the biochemical and physiological sources of inter-animal variations associated with FCR. Research has demonstrated a genetic link between feed conversion ratio and mitochondrial ROS (reactive oxygen species) production at the cellular level in broilers. More recent studies indicate a positive relationship between increased anti-oxidative capacity in broilers induced by certain plant extracts in feed and improved FCR.

Relationship between FCR and antioxidative capacity

Feed efficiency has been heavily weighted in breeding objectives for meat producing poultry for over 40 years and as a result, major gains have been made. More recent investigations by a poultry science group from the University of Arkansas provide a picture of the basis of feed efficiency (FE) at the cellular level. Oxidative stress turned out to be a cellular activity affecting feed efficiency.

The studies showed that animals with higher feed efficiency had better mitochondrial function that included less mitochondrial ROS production and less oxidation of proteins. Although feed intake was not different between low and high FE broilers, high FE broilers gained more weight and feed conversion ratios were significantly different between high and low FE groups. The level of protein carbonyl, an indicator of protein oxidation, was higher in mitochondria isolated from breast muscle of low FE compared with high FE broilers, which indicated higher oxidative stress in low FE birds.

Building on the knowledge of the link between antioxidative capacity and improved FCR in broilers from genetic research, certain plant components could offer an additional and safe way to improve FCR by nutritional means.

Anti-oxidative power from plants

The exposure of plants to unfavourable environmental conditions increases the production of ROS, which uncontrolled leads to cell damage from oxidative stress. Consequently, it is essential for plants to have sophisticated ROS detoxification processes for protection of plant cells against the negative effects of ROS. 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.

Nutritional boost for anti-oxidative capacity in birds

Recent studies carried out by the University in Athens confirmed that feeding a phytogenic formula containing certain phenolic terpenes and flavonoids to broilers significantly increased the antioxidative capacity in breast tissue, thigh, liver tissue and certain parts of the gut. Parameter for ROS scavenging activity, activity of antioxidative enzymes and reduced lipid peroxidation were significantly improved in those tissues. This study showed that there was a positive correlation between antioxidative capacity in the breast tissue of broilers and improvements in FCR (P<0.05). This indicates that feeding strategies for increased antioxidative capacity could support feed efficiency in broilers, which is subject to further research.

Benefits package from antioxidant plant components

Feeding strong antioxidative components from herbs and spices, such as certain phenolic terpenes and flavonoids offer an opportunity to naturally improve antioxidative capacity in broilers and thereby improve FCR for more profitable and sustainable production. The impact can be expected to be greater when birds are exposed to stressors such as heat, toxins and the likelihood for oxidative stress is high. Additional benefits from feeding these components may include better meat quality and stability. Cost-efficacy depends on finding the right composition, dosage and bioavailability.

Relevant scientific abstracts

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

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.