“We have learned pre-weaning feed intake is no longer the measure. Optimizing neonatal nutrition is about switching on and preparing the animal’s metabolic systems,” says Ben Helm, commercial director of AB Neo, which was officially open for business at the start of this month.
He spoke to FeedNavigator about the company’s accelerators for piglets and calves, which he says are a “genuine breakthrough" and based on the method of production and activation of a high lactose formulation containing milk products and other ingredients.
“Look, in a lot of cases, dairy and cattle farmers are using similarly constituted calf starter feeds to those they were giving their herds 20 years ago. So the market is increasingly recognizing that there is an opportunity for a re-think around young animal diets. At the same time the swine farmer continues to focus solely on feed intake and weaning weight as a measure of a successful preweaning feeding program.
And there are many feed businesses producing conventional baby animal feeds that perform well, but they tend to be brought to market as a wider portfolio of life stage products, rather than targeted directly at neonates.
Three years ago, we reckoned there was huge opportunity in just concentrating our efforts on optimizing the diet of the animal in its first few weeks.
We have now developed accelerators for piglets and calves whose manufacturing technology delivers non-feed effects - switching on lifetime performance and giving a genuine commercial advantage to producers,” said Helm.
Looking in the ‘wrong place’ for 20 years
Pig farmers, he said, have looked for an increase in feed intake and an increase in weaning weight as an indicator of progress in the area of neonate nutrition. “By being obsessed with just feed intake, you could say we've been looking in the wrong place for 20 years.”
With the accelerator product for pigs, little effect is seen until after the weaning phase, he said. “But the resulting lifetime productivity is much greater than can be attributed to the nutritional value of the accelerators alone.”
AB Neo’s first product is Axcelera-P, an accelerator for pigs which is already being used by approximately 20% of the available pig herd in the UK.
“You only need to feed the piglet 150 grams of Axcelera P in total from day four up until weaning but the data indicates piglets then grow much faster for the rest of their life and reach slaughter four days earlier or four kilos heavier,” he said.
The team is also working on a similar product for dairy calves, Axcelera C, which is currently being trialed with about 70,000 cows and is expected to be market ready by June 2015.
Helm says AB Neo is taking a “fundamentally different” route to improving calf nutrition to other new strategies that have been gaining traction recently, particularly those based on giving calves a higher plane of nutrition by feeding significantly higher levels of calf milk replacer in the first eight weeks of life.
Axcelera-C, he said, is a system where increased nutrition can be delivered without any risks of scouring or higher labor costs.
"The initial results of our academic and field trials show the calves grow faster and reach first calving earlier on Axcelera-C, with the associated lifetime benefits,” said Helm.
Proof of concept validation
AB Neo collaborated with Leeds and Harper Adams universities to test the proof of concept of Axcelera-P and it is about to undergo similar trials in North America.
Beyond productivity gains, the data, said Helm, also shows such benefits as reduced pre-weaning mortality and improved uniformity of pigs at weaning.
“The reality of the research data is already borne out by many pig farms in UK already using the product. Having trialled it, they want to continue using it,” he said.
Understanding mode of action
He said the AB Neo team does not yet fully understand the mode of action of the technology in swine and the company is, thus, undertaking research work with Bristol University to define this.
“We are working on three core hypotheses – that the accelerator technology alters immune system development, has an epigenetic effect, that it serves to enhance the young animal’s gut microbiota, or perhaps a combination of all three," said Helm. Work begins early in 2015 to test similar hypotheses in ruminants.
AB Neo has plans for a global roll out of the pig product, Axcelera-P, and he said it has initiated discussions with companies in South America and Asia in that regard.