SLOWING the rate of climate change and improving energy use efficiency while also feeding the growing global population are key targets for the livestock sector, policy-makers and scientists alike.
Through a better understanding of the interactions among animal genetics, gut characteristics and the attributes of feed, a major European Union-funded initiative aims to develop strategies to improve feed conversion efficiency (FCE) in pigs and broiler chickens while also reducing their ecological footprint. Although there is plenty of existing research on these issues, it could be argued that much is currently underutilized.
The ECO-FCE project, funded by the EU's Seventh Framework Program and launched in Belfast, Ireland, in February 2013, is compiling this information into one easy-to-use warehouse. This will be available for use by the pig and poultry industries to predict the effect of management and feeding practices on FCE and environmental pollutants.
Using cutting-edge technologies known as "-omics," ECO-FCE will also identify characteristics of the gut structure and microbiome that promote "good" and "poor" FCE in pigs and broiler chickens. Using this knowledge, the gut will then be manipulated to promote a good gut microbiome in compromised animals.
Industry tools that will be developed include the ECO-FCE hub (developed from the ECO-FCE warehouse) that will allow end users to extract information specific to their personal query, an ecological calculator and genomic models.
At the same time, the impact of FCE on product quality and animal health and welfare is being monitored.
As Austria-based project member Doris Wibmer-Falch pointed out, the pig and broiler chicken industries are key contributors to the European economy, and one of the main ways in which sustainability can be achieved is through improving FCE.
"ECO-FCE will substantially advance animal nutrition and feed science in both pigs and broiler chickens," she said. "Precision feeding of pigs and nutrient restriction of broilers will be key areas of the research. In addition, the efficacy of feed additives in improving FCE and reducing the ecological footprint will be assessed."
The 6 million-euro project will last 48 months, until 2016, and is being coordinated by Queen's University Belfast, with various partners including the Agri-Food & Biosciences Institute in the U.K., the Teagasc Agriculture & Food Development Authority in Ireland and the University of Technology & Life Sciences in Poland.
A special network has been established that will allow interested parties to become more involved in the project. Members will receive regular updates on the progress of the project and its findings and will also be able to direct suggestions, comments and ideas to the ECO-FCE experts.