The experiment that I’m working on is pretty commonly referred to as a feeding trial. Basically what this means is that our experiment will consist of different diet adjustments. These diet adjustments try to only change one specific thing between diets in order to be able to attribute differences observed during the experiment to these diet changes, thus increasing our understanding of what impact the things we feed has on product quality, product safety, animal health and the environment. It is a very rewarding area of animal science to be researching for me because I feel like the knowledge we can gain in this field is limitless in its potential real-world applications. In our case we will be formulating one diet from which different additives will be put in. We hope to determine which added ingredient is best for encouraging healthy growth and behavior of pigs while improving the safety of our human food supply. Keep in mind that all of the ingredients we are testing have already been proven to be safe and beneficial for consumption by animals, and also safe for ultimate human consumption. We just want to know which is most beneficial.
A struggle with feeding trials over the years is that occasionally something other than just the treatment gets inadvertently changed. In my field of study, I’ve seen growth performance of pigs attributed to a diet ingredient and then people later discovered that they gave extra protein or energy to one of the groups. This can have a big impact on what happens during the experiment! These confounded results can have very little value to science if the variables cannot be sorted out and I don’t want this to happen to me. To avoid this, we spent last week balancing diets based on current ingredient listings that we have available to us. We made the diets as simple as possible and used a programmed spreadsheet to ensure that every requirement of the pig is met in the diet. Then we edited ingredients between treatments to make sure that they were balanced as well. By balancing for energy, we created “isocaloric” diets which we also balanced for protein.
But it’s much more complicated than that. Feed ingredients also have different digestibility values once fed and can have interactions between ingredients. This is where it becomes important to understand feed ingredients and to have properly analyzed the feed for the values we used in the calculations. Scientific research over the years has established a lot of ratios that we need to follow to ensure that the animals we are feeding have the nutrition they need to be healthy for the trial and also balanced between treatments in the experiment.
All sounds kind of complicated, right? Well this is a simplified version of what really goes on, and this same nutrient balancing is what is done for all of the animals that live on farms today. Some people think that we should return to the “natural” way of producing animals, that we have overcomplicated the issue and that this isn’t good for the animals. While I understand peoples’ concerns about complicated diets, simple things aren’t always good. Pasture and free range doesn’t provide everything that an animal needs to live, just like vegetarianism cannot provide all of the nutrients that humans need to be healthy. We need to supplement this intake with protein, vitamins and minerals (naturally found in animal products) in order to be as healthy as we can be. And the same kind of supplementation is important for animals.
Now, we could just throw out a mineral block and call it good, but with all of the science and knowledge that we have today, that would be underutilizing technology. By using the technology we’ve developed, we can provide so much better care to the animals we raise. And this is why farmers go to great lengths to balance out nutrients with proper analysis to make sure that they are providing everything that an animal needs to be healthy and survive. They go to complicated lengths to make the right decisions for the animals which ultimately put food on your table.