U sponsors 71st nutrition conference

The Department of Animal Science gave a research update on livestock.

Ashley Bray

OWATONNA, Minn. – Participants from as far as Amarillo, Texas and Winnipeg, Ontario travelled to Owatonna, Minn., this week to hear the latest information on livestock nutrition from the University of Minnesota.

The University’s Department of Animal Science is sponsoring the 71st annual Minnesota Nutrition Conference, which began Tuesday and will continue Wednesday.

During the two-day span, participants will learn about new research aimed at making feeding swine, cattle and poultry more efficient and environmentally sustainable.

“The goal of the conference is to transmit cutting-edge technology to the feed industry,” said Lee Johnston, a professor with the West Central Research and Outreach Center and conference co-chairman.

The Department of Animal Science, College of Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resource Sciences and the University of Minnesota Extension team have been bringing the research and technology to this conference for 71 years in an attempt to benefit the ultimate end user, the consumer, Johnston said.

Consumer demands were behind the scenes at the conference, Johnston said. Demands including a safe, healthful, responsibly produced product, but most consumers don’t know how it gets there, he said.

“People don’t really understand the high level of technology and science involved in feeding livestock.”

Tuesday afternoon was dedicated to 11 presentations, which comprised the University’s livestock research update.

The presentations were geared towards a highly educated audience. “Three quarters of the people here have Ph.D.s in some field of animal science or biochemistry, and we’re all striving for a safe product for the consumer,” Johnston said.

Three of the presentations were especially important to today’s livestock nutritionists.

Dr. Yuzhi Li, assistant professor in swine production, spoke about a study she worked on to determine the effects of an amino acid called dietary tryptophan, or Trp, and how it may affect aggression in swine.

The study was meant to determine if using Trp could suppress excitement, aggression, anxiety or pain, Li said during her presentation.

While the study found that “supplementation of dietary Trp did not affect aggressive behaviors,” Johnston said the project is still important.

“There is a lot scrutiny of [swine] production systems, how the animals are treated, how they treat each other,” so this is a way of finding out how nutrition might be able to enhance that area, he said.

Another presentation, given by Brad Heins, a professor in the animal science department at the University, highlighted the relatively new technology of crossbreeding dairy cows.

While crossbreeding beef cattle has been going on for many years, crossbreeding in dairy is a fairly new and revolutionary technology, Johnston said. Dairy workers have always said “straight-bred Holstein [a breed of cattle] is the only way to go,” but now science is starting to show the benefits of crossbreeding, he said.

“The University of Minnesota is showing promise that crossbred dairy cattle have a higher rate of survival … compared to pure Holsteins,” according to an overview of Heins’ work.

Heins worked on a research study in California for the last eight years, which was mostly observational. The study found that crossing Holsteins with other breeds, such as Scandinavian Reds and Normandes, produced a cow with a significantly higher survival rate.

“These advantages should have substantial impact on profitability of dairying … the results of this study suggest dairy producers can improve survival rates of cows while maintaining high levels or production,” the overview said.

On Wednesday, participants will break up into specifically focused groups and three sessions will be going on simultaneously.

While Tuesday was “sort of a mish-mash of things, of bigger concepts,” said Johnston, Wednesday will provide the opportunity for participants to focus on specific issues related to the species each person works with.