Neonates (baby animals) present a window of opportunity within which farmers can influence the lifetime
performance of an animal. By working with the neonatal animal, every
producer has the means to influence their whole herd’s profitability.
Farmers can have a huge effect on lifetime performance by what they do on farm in a key period of an animal's life pre- and postpartum, compared to investing in progressive genetics which cannot be influenced or changed after purchase. In addition, farm management of neonates can have other genetic effects.
The neonate opportunity
Neonate nutrition is about making a small but well-timed investment to achieve greater than normal returns later. There are many variables that control the growth and performance of an animal through its life, but if the neonate phase is underutilised then the opportunity for switching on improved lifetime performance has been lost forever – and thereafter the animal will be developing on a lower plane of growth or less efficiently. It's all about increased incomes from pigs reaching slaughter sooner or heavier or more milk production from cows.
It's already known that a better start in life through improved nutrition will improve lifetime performance. However, more recently, epigenetic effects were discovered, caused by nutritional factors that deliver an additional step-change in making the animal perform more efficiently for the rest of its life.
Realising true potential
Farmers invest in advanced genetics that deliver progressive productivity benefits such as greater litter sizes in pigs or milk yields in cows. The neonate presents a real opportunity to optimise the existing genetic 'hardware' (and to even cause epigenetic changes) by using novel neonatal nutritional technologies (comparable to software upgrades) that work in partnership to deliver real performance and commercial gains.
As such, farmers might think that once they have chosen their genetics, their potential growth performance has been fixed.What they buy is like computer hardware, say a new laptop but to make it work better they also need good software. What we are learning is that how farmers feed their newborn pigs and calves upgrades the software in a way that may result in reducing neonate mortality in hyperprolific sows, switching on lifetime performance in pigs or optimising lifetime milk yield in dairy cows.
So having invested in the genetic capabilities, it makes sense to realise and extend the true genetic potential. Another commercial bonus is that the period of investment in the neonate is when animals are eating relatively small quantities of food, making the actual investment relative to the costs through the rest of the animal's life very small, particularly when compared to the lifetime of returns.
When to act?
Because the neonate develops from conception, the first few days and weeks of an animal's life are formative for the rest of its life, just as much as the time prior to the animal being born, and even in the run up to conception. AB Neo's postpartum work with both swine and ruminants has shown that the earlier the neonate is offered particular diets, the more significant the outcome. Broader pig work clearly shows nutritional influences on the neonate around conception, at points during the pregnancy as well as shortly pre- and postpartum. In ruminants, influence can also be achieved relatively easily in the calf from birth to weaning.
For farmers to be interested and willing to influence the neonate, it needs to be easy to do and present clear commercial benefits. One approach is to encourage the animal to eat 'more of the same' where feed intake is the key measure. Additionally, a new technology ('accelerators') - its development was spurred by diminishing returns from the more of the same technology - is delivering greater lifetime benefits. This new technology is no longer concerned with just feed intake and weaning weight – but rather what effect a particular formulation can have on the neonate over and above the nutritional value of the feed or ingredients – a type of software change to enable the animal to perform better.
A combination of academic and commercial trials have proven the concept of accelerators in both swine and ruminants. In pigs there are three fundamental benefits:
- An improvement in lifetime performance – reaching slaughter heavier or earlier;
- Reduced pre-weaning mortality – proving to be very effective with hyperprolific sows;
- Improved uniformity of pigs at weaning, reducing the number of 'smalls' and making stock management easier.
How does it work?
It's best not to think of accelerators in terms of offering a better feed or a new diet. Accelerators have 'non-nutrition' features in how they perform and are produced. They use a proprietary formulation and a new production technology to activate specific ingredients that create a novel effect whose performance impact is greater than can be accounted for by the ingredients alone by changing the way ingredients are digested in the gut.
With accelerators in ruminants (where only 10 kg of an accelerator offered from birth to weaning can accelerate a calf) calf growth accelerating prior to and beyond weaning is observed, which will then go on to deliver higher yielding herds with improved longevity and fertility. Uniformity of the herd also improves, bringing up the bottom end of the herd.
Accelerators in cows stimulate earlier intake which means high quality solid food is reaching the rumen and stimulating its development very early. Ongoing provision of the accelerator fuels faster growth up to and beyond weaning, setting the foundations for accelerated lifetime performance.
In pigs, conventionally, farmers 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. After many years of trying to research ways of exploiting compensatory or catch up growth farmers have increasingly realised that it just cannot be done predictably in a commercial situation and carries too much financial risk. This means the most effective way of producing profitable farm animals is through fast growth throughout their life. Because of their novel mode of action, when an accelerator is offered to a neonate, it is proven to take animal performance to a higher trajectory than could be achieved using conventional pre-weaning diets. As a result, they accelerate the performance of animals above their peers reared on the maximum nutrient intake system when offered at the neonate phase.
AB Neo's first accelerator for pigs is called Axcelera-P where each piglet typically only consumes up to 200 g from day 4 and through to weaning resulting in finishing pigs heavier or earlier. This often compares to 300-500 g of a conventional pre-weaning diet.
Mode of action
With accelerators, pre-weaning feed intake is no longer the only measure – it's about switching on and preparing the gut where little growth effect is seen until after the weaning phase, after which the performance is accelerated throughout the animal's whole life.
The animal's gut is the delivery organ for feed efficiency and for a lean, fast growing animal – and accelerators thought to act by turning on the gut as the delivery system. This may involve epigenetic effects (turning genes on or off) which may act in one or more distinct ways, by helping the immune system to react more appropriately to challenges common on commercial farms and utilise less nutrients to run the immune system and leave more for growth. Another effect may be to directly improve transporter systems by or through the changed microbiota, to open up high performing metabolic pathways.
In short, it's as though the switch has been turned on in the neonate to boost pre-weaning survival and post-weaning lifetime performance.