Agribusiness companies, research institutes and universities from nine countries including China Japan, Australia, the US, Ireland, Norway, the UK, India and France, under Alltech’s Research Alliance program, met in Beijing last week to look at how technology can address global livestock production challenges.
Dr Karl Dawson, that company’s chief scientific officer and global research director, spoke to us about the work the Alliance has been involved in.
“There is huge overlap in what it is going on in genetics, nutrition and management in terms of animal husbandry, with the latter two often having to play catch up with the breeding side. But learning the management and nutrition tools that address genetic advancements are critical to fertility, production efficiency and optimizing the animal’s gut health
One of the things we are doing is trying to identify challenges and then we set about manipulating nutritional programs to increase offspring per breeding animal.
Some of the research teams in the Alliance have been focused on how looking at how changing the ratio of trace minerals can improve reproductive performance or how mycotoxin contamination can impact fertility.”
The Alliance, he said, is designed to stimulate multi-discipline teamwork, to provide access to joint funding, research and intellectual property. “There are a great number of projects, most of which I have some level of involvement in,” said Dawson.
Alltech researchers, he said, have been looking at how algae-derived omega-3 fatty acids can also impact reproductive performance.
“A trial we are running in conjunction with the University of Florida indicates the success rate of artificial insemination programs will increase by 50% when algae-based fatty acids are included in the diet of cows during lactation - the findings are preliminary but promising,” said Dawson.
The teams are also evaluating the composition of feed materials, using tools such as Alltech’s dairy targeted In Vitro Fermentation Model (IFM) but also models that simulate digestive processes in monogastrics.
“The kinetics of digestion has been on our radar for a number of years – understanding the interaction between nutrients in ruminant and monogastric systems to better enable precision feeding,” said Dawson.
Over the last 20 years, he said a lot of development has taken place around gut health and nutrition but a weakness still exists in terms of the diagnostic technology available. "We need indicators of optimal gut health," he said.
He said Alltech wants to be able to look at an animal’s intestinal tract but in a non-invasive way and then make recommendations on how to improve nutritional programs based on the findings. "We are fairly close to coming up with a number of systems for gut health profiling - we have a couple of good candidate techniques that will allow for rapid evaluation of blood and fecal material," said Dawson.
The teams, he continued, have also been active in the area of nutritional and management programs that will help pig and poultry producers migrate away from antimicrobials focusing on nutritional components such as organic acids, yeast cell based products, trace minerals, antioxidants and essential oils.
The are now evaluating how these substitutes “stack up” against antimicrobial-based systems.
“In addition, we are looking at replacements for the use of ionophores in cattle feed," added Alltech’s research director.
The Alliance has also been addressing aquaculture industry challenges, screening grains and algae for both partial and total fishmeal replacement.
“We have been looking at alternative ways of putting plant based materials together to devise an all vegetarian diet for fish. A lot depends on the life stage and the processing techniques used in aqua feed production in terms of how digestible and efficient these ingredients are,” said Dawson.
And he said the teams have not seen any substantial anti-nutrient effect from fats in algae, despite some of the conclusions of the literature in that respect.