Improving low-protein diets to prevent behavioural problems in pigs
The project will provide new nutritional strategies for reducing damaging behaviour under practical conditions in the setting of low protein supply, which we consider a risk factor for the occurrence of these problems. Low protein nutritional strategies are of essence to reduce environmental nitrogen loss, and thus increase resource efficiency. Increased knowledge on the role of dietary protein content and amino acid composition on the prevention of damaging behaviours like tail and ear biting in pigs is of both scientific and societal relevance. The risk on tail biting will increase in view of the implementation of the ban of routine tail docking (Commission recommendation EU 2016/120/EC).
The animal feed sector, its suppliers, and farmers will implement the results of the project, optimizing amino acid supplementation strategies either in-feed or on-farm and presenting new feeding concepts, considering not only the animal’s productive performance, restrictions of environmental N and P emissions but also taking animal welfare into account by a strong contribution to the prevention and reduction of damaging behaviours.
Implementing new dietary strategies considering animal health and welfare is of high benefit for the primary pig production sector and its stakeholders and for the public image and attitude of society towards animal production in general, and pig production more specifically.
The project liaises to the mission of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Food with regard to the production of valued, healthy and safe food in which high standards for maintaining animal welfare and integrity are implemented (Mission Part D Subtheme 4: Animal health, welfare and integrity at a high level) and animal housing, management and feeding are matched with the intrinsic values and requirements of the animal. Moreover, the project is also at the interphase with increasing environmental sustainability of pig production as the focus in the project will be the evaluation of low protein, amino acid supplemented diets with reduced environmental impact in terms of N- and ammonia emission supporting the route towards climate neutral production animal production systems (Mission Part B. Climate neutral agriculture and feed production).
Animal health and welfare are key values in future sustainable pig production. Improved housing, feeding and management practices will help to support animal health and welfare. Some measures supporting sustainability of animal production, however, might induce trade-offs towards animal welfare. Use of low protein diets without considering appropriate amino acid profiles in the diet could induce damaging behaviour with negative effects on animal health and welfare. The present project will develop feeding strategies using environmental sustainable diets while simultaneously preventing damaging behaviour and supporting animal welfare and health.
In a series of four studies, three of which conducted under standardized, but practical conditions, will be performed. To place reductions in damaging behaviours in a perspective, positive control treatments with an adapted pen environment using enrichment materials, proven to be capable to reduce damaging behaviours will be included whenever appropriate. Tails will remain undocked. A PhD student is involved in the project. In a first study the effects of lowering the dietary protein content, which was shown to increase damaging behaviour in an earlier study carried out by WUR is compared with a low-protein diet with dietary amino acid : energy ratios optimized for achieving maximal growth performance, as well as with a high protein diet. It is hypothesized that the amino acid composition required for reducing damaging behaviour differs from that required for maximizing growth performance. In follow-up research, the effects of various combinations of amino acid supplementations on damaging behaviour will be tested in a practical setting using low protein diets and the effectiveness of offering amino acid supplements by choice-feeding will be tested.