Continuous development in the field of animal nutrition is essential to meet current and future challenges such as replacement of antibiotics, higher incidence of more aggressive animal diseases and a growing focus on sustainable farming.
The right levels of quality and sustainable vitamins will help farmers improve animal health, wellbeing and performance, while also protecting the environment, succeeding in a dynamic and ever-changing global market, enhancing both profits and environmental sustainability.
Vitamins play a decisive role in both human and animal nutrition. As organic catalysts present in small quantities in most foods, they are essential for the normal functioning of metabolic and physiological processes. Vitamin requirements in animals are dynamic: they vary according to new genotypes, levels of yield and production systems. The inclusion of a nutritional programme with appropriate levels of vitamins in an animal's diet not only allows to completely realise its genetic potential but, at the same time, improves various aspects related to health and well-being, its productivity and the ultimate quality of the food produced, be it meat, milk, or eggs. Healthier animals will produce more and healthier food.
Optimum Vitamin Nutrition® (OVN™) is a dynamic concept which regularly review and update vitamin supplementation in feed. OVN™ is about feeding animals high-quality vitamins, produced with the lowest environmental footprint, in the right amounts, appropriate to their life stage and growing conditions, to optimize Animal Health and Welfare, Animal Performance and Food Quality & Food Waste.
Vitamin recommendations from international scientific associations such as NRC and ARC were developed to prevent nutritional deficiencies. Some of the studies on which they are based are more than 20 or 30 years old. Thanks to improvements in genetic selection, nutrition, sanitary and environmental conditions, today’s livestock industry has little in common with the industry as it was—not only at that time but even just a few years ago. For example, sows’ performance parameters have improved 1% to 2% per year in the last five years as reported by Pig Champ, which analyzed data from hundreds of commercial pig farms (Figure 1). In the same period, mortality and culling rates of sows and gilts improved (+9.7% and +0.8% per year respectively), indicating that especially in breeder animals, more attention to lifetime performance must be paid, and vitamins can play an important role. Genetic companies are forecasting additional performance improvements (Figure 2), of even higher order of magnitude. Accordingly, vitamin nutrition guidelines will also require continuous adjustment.
Thanks to improvements in genetic selection, nutrition, sanitary and environmental conditions, today’s livestock has little in common with the industry as it was 20 or 30 years ago, when many vitamin guidelines were created.
Likewise, legislative changes are limiting the use of compounds such antibiotics and growth promoters, substances which until recently had formed a habitual part of animals' diets, including those of the animal trials on which vitamins requirements were based on. At the same time many countries are developing new rules on animal welfare and environmental protection which will entail less "intensiveness" in the livestock industry, with the aim of improving the health and well-being of the animals and sustainability of the planet. Meanwhile, our farmers need to be competitive about livestock productivity (weight gain, conversion indices, final weight of the animal, mortality, etc.) to be able to face strong international competition where free trade is a tangible reality.
Nutrition programs for farm animals, including vitamin supplements, need to be adjusted in a manner consistent with improved animal management techniques and genetic development.
This adjustment should be based on the most recent scientific studies, besides considering practical experience from farmers and feed producers as well as nutritional recommendations from breeding companies which have the best knowledge on the animals they produce.
Testing different levels of individual vitamins is one way to define the optimal use of vitamins in feed. Recent dsm-firmenich OVN™ webinars have reviewed experimental data extracted from more than 50 papers on individual vitamins published during the last 10 years (information available through the authors). Some examples of this research are in Figures 2-6.
Nevertheless, vitamins play complementary catalytic roles on important metabolic processes with multiple interactions among them. Therefore, we might not see the full effect of increasing levels of individual vitamins if levels of other vitamins are a limiting factor and we must better understand and quantify the effect of good levels of all vitamins in the same diet since probably we will not find an additive effect of all benefits seen in the individual vitamin trials.
Poulsen and Krogsdahl (2018) compared the OVN™ supplementation levels against the Danish standard recommendations (Figure 7) in 1,250 weaning piglets from 7 to 30 kg of weight and concluded that the OVN™ supplementation significantly improved daily weight gain, feed conversion ratio and production value (Figure 8).
Hinson et al. (2022) confronted the average vitamin supplementation levels used by swine producers in the United States, which are close to OVN™ recommendations, and a reduced vitamin level, either to NRC recommendations for vitamins A, D, E and K (NRC, Nutrient requirements of swine, 2012) or half (or even lower) the industry average for B-vitamins. Feeding the lower vitamin levels to sows (n=245) tended to reduce litter performance and applying the same strategy to nursery piglets (n=765) significantly reduced their performance (Figure 9). Moreover, the authors observed that the reduced vitamin supplementation decreased circulating and stored vitamin levels in both sows – with potential negative impact on long-term reproductive performance – and nursery piglets.
More information on latest recommendations from some swine genetic companies, scientific references used in the vitamin review and detailed information on the new 2022 OVN™ Guidelines for Swine are available in Figures 10 to 15 and at the OVN™ Swine page.
To meet the highest quality standards, nutritional and legal requirements for animal feed production, premix producers and feed manufacturers need to handle additives safely and with great precision.
Vitamins are rarely added as pure substances to feed because they are often degraded due to instability towards oxygen, light or temperature: as such they are not suited to the rigors of the feed manufacturing processes and their handling properties can be poor. Therefore, they must be properly formulated as feed additives to be added into premix, feed or drinking water before the animal access them.
It is about mixing grams or milligrams in one ton of feed with animals eating grams feed per day: certainly not an easy task. The best way to do it is following strict product formulation fundamentals where the high safety and quality of both the active substance and raw materials, combined with appropriate formulation technology, result in product forms consistently delivering an optimal combination of desirable characteristics.
For maximum efficacy feed additives like vitamins should be formulated for:
The final goal is to achieve the best balance between handling, mixing, stability and bioavailability depending on the specific application challenges that each nutrient may face.
Figure 16 illustrates a recent example on an important industry concern: large overages (up to 100%) may be required to match vitamin A nutritional requirements in poultry feed if not-stable enough vitamin products are used, as seen in this trial run by an independent premixer in Scandinavia.
The right levels of high-quality, sustainable micro-nutrients provided to feed millers, integrators and farmers can help them improve animal health, wellbeing, and performance, while also protecting the environment, succeeding in a dynamic and ever-changing global market, enhancing both profits and environmental sustainability.
dsm-firmenich, as part of our sustainability commitment, has developed Environmental Vitamin Product Declarations (EPD) which transparently provides environmental footprint information to support purchasing decisions and to support feed millers, integrators, and farmers to better assess product sustainability. These environmental product reports may be soon part of the industry specifications according to their individual needs and commitment to sustainability in the feed and food chain.
Reducing the carbon footprint of vitamin and other feed additive operations, enable feed millers, integrators, and farmers to become more sustainable, reduce their risk profile and to potentially benefit from value created from future carbon tax savings (Figure 17).
Supporting swine diets with appropriate vitamins help make farming more sustainable. Optimum Vitamin Nutrition® (OVN™) is about feeding animals high quality vitamins, produced with the lowest environmental footprint, in the right amounts, appropriate to their life stage and growing conditions, to optimize animal health and welfare, animal performance and food quality and waste.
Nutrition programmes for farm animals, including vitamin supplements, need to be adjusted in a manner consistent with improved animal management techniques, new health challenges and genetic development which have supported the feed industry to achieve annual productivity improvements of +1-2%.
Testing different levels of individual vitamins as well as combination of all vitamins versus current vitamin blends used by the industry seem to be a consistent strategy to review and adjust optimal use of vitamins in feed.
Once vitamin levels are defined, maximum attention must be paid to the use of the right vitamin product forms. This would avoid jeopardizing decisions taken by nutritionists to optimize animal health and production cost of foods of animal origin (meat/egg/milk/fish) with products which might not be stable enough or mixed properly in premix or feed.
It is more essential than ever that nutritionists and purchasers engage in an ongoing dialogue to advance more sustainable farming and improve farmer profitability.
22 March 2023
Gilberto, an Italian national, holds a degree in Agronomy and Animal Science from the Catholic University in Piacenza, bringing almost 40 years of experience in the field of animal nutrition. He started working at the University as scientist and then moved to industry, joining Roche-dsm-firmenichin 1996, holding various roles in sales, technical support and marketing.
José-María is a Spanish national holding a Degree in Veterinary Medicine and Masters in Exec-MBA and Marketing and Commercial Management.
Close to 35 years in the feed industry, he joined Roche-dsm-firmenich in 1989 and had different technical, commercial, and marketing positions in EMEA and Global (Poultry) Business and Category (Vitamins, Carotenoids) management in Spain, Switzerland as well as GM in Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay.
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