Ecologically intensive precision agriculture is increasingly being associated with advanced technologies. These technologies are quickly mobilized to provide accurate information, which helps farmers to anticipate or solve problems that often cause significant economic losses (Griffon, 2013).
The overall well-being, health and nutritional balance of a ruminant are the key to productivity for a farmer. The physico-chemical composition and the bacterial and parasite population of the digestive tract play a central role at various levels in the immunity, nutrition, pathogenesis and evaluation of the health of an individual (Langendijk et al., 1995). Detailed knowledge of the diet digestibility, rumen metabolism and bacterial and parasite population of the animal should enable a full assessment to be made of the well-being, health and therefore overall productivity of the animal.
A complete analysis of the health and nutritional status of a ruminant currently requires collecting various samples, such as cytological and microbiological smears and fluids such as blood, milk or rumen fluid, as well as other interventions that can stress the animal. Feces can be collected less invasively and provide samples for analyses that would give a comprehensive and complete overview of the animal’s productivity.
Currently, feces are analyzed at CRA-W using near-infrared spectroscopy in order to determine their chemical and biochemical components (Decruyenaere et al., 2012). Feces are complex samples consisting mainly of particles of food residues, fibers, chemicals, bacteria and parasites. This complexity is an important source of untapped information. Combining microscopy and spectroscopy techniques provides tools that can increase the resolution of the analyses and should therefore be considered for feces analysis.
The expertise in vibrational spectroscopy and microscopy that is available at CRA-W is widely recognized. Using both fields of expertise gives CRA-W the opportunity to explore obtaining the maximum amount of information from feces and to take a pioneering position in the development of advanced analytical techniques in this field. The innovation in this project will be the development of micro-spectroscopy techniques aimed at increasing the information derived from the analysis of feces.
The objective of the project will be to develop rapid and accurate analytical methods for screening the overall productivity of a cow or sheep. The analysis will be performed on the feces, which hold information about many vital signs of an animal.
The expected results include providing decision-making tools for farmers involved in ecologically intensive agriculture. The early detection of health and dietary disorders will optimize herd management. For example, in the case of large-scale farms, our analyses will characterize the variability of individuals in a herd and will identify sub-groups for which one or the other operation is best suited for maximizing the productivity of an individual. In parallel, this information could be used to manage complex problems on farms. For example, acidosis is a major problem in high-producing dairy cows, but there are currently no tools for monitoring and decision making. Poor overall farm management farm appears to be responsible for acidosis occurrence (Lessire and Rollin, 2013). The analyses of bacterial populations and feces composition will indicate management changes that need to be made, particularly with regard to improving herd management.
Our research will also study the parasite population in the digestive tract of the animals, which should provide very useful information, especially during the period when heifers first start grazing. It is during this first year that the immunity against parasites develops and this is therefore a crucial time. It is an acquired immunity that requires contact between host and parasite. When pest pressure is too strong, growth problems occur (Heckendorn and Frutschi, 2014), which tend to delay the date of first lactation (causing significant economic loss). The proposed farm monitoring will seek to identify pest control interventions that the producer can use to prevent lactation delays and ensure immunity development. Finally, bacterial balance is directly related to an animal’s diet (Hungate, 1966) and this will also be analyzed in order to refine the diet of the herd.
The project is in line with the doctoral thesis submitted by the leader of this project, Quentin Ledoux. It was Mr. Ledoux who, through the INTEGRALE project (Moerman), was responsible for developing fluorescence microscopy techniques at CRA-W.
Units 6, 7 and 16 will provide technical and scientific support for the development of this project.
- Animal Nutrition and Sustainability Unit (U6)
- Animal Breeding, Quality Production and Welfare Unit (U7)
- Authentification and Traceability Unit (U16)
- CRA-W - Moerman funds