Adjusting the nutrients in pig feed to match the actual needs of the animal will result in a much lower burden on the environment. This is the conclusion of a study conducted within the EU Feed-a-Gene project of Wageningen Livestock Research, that was concluded in collaboration with 22 international partners.
Feed-a-Gene focused on improving feed conversion for pigs, poultry and rabbits in different production systems, as well as on reducing the environmental impact. Researchers focused on feed (resources and nutrients), the animals’ genetic predisposition and how these two aspects may be better aligned. The Wageningen researchers carried out their research in, among others, VIC Sterksel.
‘Three topics were relevant to us: concerning the animal sectors – what are the actors that contribute to nitrogen efficiency, and can thus lead to a lower nitrogen burden on the environment? How may processing technology applied to feedstock contribute to improving nutritional value, and what (genetic) animal characteristics can we use to attune the composition of feed to improve animal performance and efficiency in feed’, says Alfons Jansman, a senior researcher at Wageningen Livestock Research.
An improved feed conversion causes the animal to utilise nutrients more efficiently so that fewer minerals are excreted through faeces and urine. This, in turn, reduces environmental impact through nitrogen—moreover, protein efficiency increases. ‘We researched what processing technologies are best suited to release the nutrients in the feedstock. We considered the palatability of the feedstock. What part benefits the animal, and what part is released into the environment through excrement and urine’, Jansman explains.
Alternative feed system
In Sterksel, an alternative feed system was tested where individual animals were given an adjustable mix of two feed types, attuned to the particular animal’s unique characteristics (e.g. birth weight and genetic predisposition for protein production). ‘This system may yet be too costly to be implemented, but the underlying principles and results are applicable towards furthering precision feed concepts’, says Jansman.
Similar studies have been conducted on poultry in France, while France and Spain have studied the effects on rabbits. Wageningen Livestock Research worked on this study over a period of five years.