Why research on neonates is crucial

Table of Contents The importance of researchCentre of excellenceFuture focusExamples of success For many years,…

For many years, the 4 AB Agri businesses which now form AB Neo and collectively focus on young animal nutrition have invested significantly in both university and commercial trials to improve animal efficiency and on-farm production profitability. As AB Neo looks to the future, the importance of expanding their knowledge about feeding neonates in an ever-changing environment is a critical priority for the business.

“We require healthy, productive young animals that will go on to deliver full value over their entire lifetime,” Simon explains. “Early life nutrition drives both physical and psychological development; if it’s managed correctly, the animal is not only healthier, which of course impacts positively on welfare and sustainability and means less reliance on medication, but producers also benefit from the full lifetime value of the animal.”

The importance of research

The drivers of advancing nutrition are certainly broader today, according to AB Neo. While testing product ideas, refining them and demonstrating their benefits is key, research within the business is about more than that. “It’s also about focusing on changing consumer requirements, reduced use of antibiotics, and learning how new and novel raw materials can benefit pig production, including their impact on a more sustainable production system. We aim to create more from less by adding value to low-quality ingredients,” Simon clarified. “As a newly reorganised business, we have brought together a significant range of nutrition expertise – from PhDs and MScs to veterinary proficiency in different production systems and nutrition approaches seen around the world. We not only recognise how our new structure’s exchange of technical knowledge will generate improved market solutions more quickly, but we anticipate that ideation and new concept innovation will also flourish.”

Simon Tibble, AB Neo’s technical director. Photo: ABNeo
Simon Tibble, AB Neo’s technical director. Photo: ABNeo

Centre of excellence

Neonate nutrition that can meet future customer demands has led the business to formalise its research strategy into 3 core development steps, with a new emphasis on ‘near market’ work to ensure innovation is reflective of commercial aspects. In the past, the individual neonate businesses have formed close partnerships with universities and carried out hundreds of trials over decades, offering innovation and feeding efficiencies to their customers. Under the new structure, this process will continue but with an emphasis on ‘blue-sky’ thinking and measuring the neonate’s reaction to stimuli at the physiological level.

“For the second sector of our strategy, we’re thrilled to announce we will be commissioning our AB Neo centre of excellence research farm in Spain,” Simon continued. “It will be on-stream early in 2022 when it will be able to to take in its first placement of up to 8400 piglets. This facility will allow us to test top class innovation in ‘near market’ conditions. “The state-of-the-art unit will have links to the maternity farm, allowing for pre-weaning nutrition evaluation, as well as to grower/finisher farms to fully evaluate impacts on lifetime performance. “It’s a very exciting time, mainly because we’re giving our experts all the freedom, empowerment, and resources they need to become a leading influence in safe, sustainable food production. However, it’s very much a dual-purpose asset with customer input on innovation and ideation being very important to its success.” The final sector in Neo’s strategy is the introduction of new application farms; a series of commercial farms in key pig markets to test concepts on units that are representative of local genetics, management and weaning ages before they are rolled out to the wider customer base. “This comprehensive approach means we will be absolutely confident that when we go to market, our recommendations and products will perform as we expect under local conditions and add value to our customers’ businesses,” Simon added.

Future focus

On the horizon for the European pig industry is the prohibition of the use of therapeutic zinc and greater control of antibiotic use, which has been the focus of more than 5 years’ research within AB Neo. While great advances in nutrition have been achieved to prepare for the June 2022 deadline, the business knows that they cannot risk taking their ‘eye off the ball’ when it comes to production challenges. “First and foremost, we have consumer pressures,” Simon explains. “Consumers are increasingly demanding higher animal welfare standards, which we applaud; however, our challenge is to find the balance between optimal welfare and the safe and sustainable production of meat. It’s something that will not lessen in importance, so it will remain at the centre of our work moving forward.” From a physiological perspective, the business is broadening its understanding of microbiota and how nutrition impacts on gut development. “We have a lot of concepts exploring the development of microbiota and how the ability to influence it in the first ten weeks will positively affect lifetime performance. Stronger piglets at weaning will obviously cope better with reduced antibiotics, so this aspect is very important,” Simon added. AB Neo’s customers also feature centrally within their future research strategy with larger customers having more influence in the production chain. Transparency will be critical, according to Simon, and the partnerships generated will be much more collaborative than just looking at nutrition. They will also include wider influences, for example meat quality.

Examples of success

Today, the business not only has a substantial central technical reference library to draw from, but also a series of university projects. Alongside our own investigation resources, they have been developing and implementing a new understanding of fibre and protein digestion in piglets and how these new understandings can be applied in the development of non-zinc dietary programmes. “We’re on the edge of a very exciting time,” Simon concluded. “As a group we can leverage our technically strong and diverse knowledge base so that we arrive at conclusions faster and more efficiently than ever before. We have set out to become leaders in neonate nutrition, and I believe our customers will be the winners.”