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Veronika Maurer
(Dr. sc. ETH)

Department of Livestock Sciences
Group lead Animal Health
FiBL
Ackerstrasse 113
CH-5070 Frick

Phone +41 (0)62 865-7257
Fax +41 (0)62 865-7273
veronika.maurer(at)fibl.org

LowInputBreeds project improves breeding strategies

The LowInputBreeds project integrated breeding and management to improve animal health, product quality, and performance in organic and low input milk, meat, and eggs. Four technical sub-projects (SP) were evaluated for ethical, economic and environmental impact in a 5th subproject, which also covered training and dissemination, including the project website www.lowinputbreeds.org with the project's publications, newsletters, conference proceedings, and technical notes.

The logo of the LowInputBreeds project.

Logo of the LowInputBreeds project.

A person standing between the cattle.

Evaluating body score condition within the LowInputBreeds project. Photo: Thomas Alföldi, FiBL

A flock of Sfakiano sheep.

The Greek Sfakiano sheep. Photo: Nikos Tzanidakis, Hellenic Agricultural Organisation

Pigs taking a bath in the mud.

Pigs on the Sao Marcelo Farm in Brazil. Photo: Sascha Leenhouvers, TopPigs

Hens

Brown and silver hens enjoying themselves in a Dutch range, equipped as a vineyard. Photo: Ferry Leenstra, Wageningen University

Cover of a Technical Note.

The LowInputBreeds Technical Notes summarize the key results of the project.

(July 08, 2015) 

Below the results from the various subprojects are presented.

Cattle

Subproject 1 on cattle estimated genomic breeding values with reasonable accuracy for novel functional traits in 1500 Brown Swiss (BS) cows on low input and organic farms in Switzerland. BS genetics significantly influenced the milk's fatty acid composition. Gene analysis showed no major differences between the Brown Swiss cows and those on high-input farms or reference German Holstein Friesians. In the UK, yields, milk quality, health, and welfare were assessed for 1000 crossbred dairy cows on low-input/organic farms and preliminary analysis revealed differences between the farms and within populations of the same management. Simulation studies assessed the impact of natural service bulls on genetic gain and inbreeding in organic genomic breeding programs, revealing superiority in the use of genomics for AI bull selection.

Sheep

The sheep subproject focused on mountainous and Mediterranean areas; assessing genetic, nutritional, and grazing management on: a) stress resistance in robust sheep, b) integrative approaches to control intestinal nematodes, and c) the quality of meat and lamb carcasses. The role of genetics was evaluated within Greek Sfakiano dairy sheep for resistance to heat, parasites, and mastitis, investigating the scope for marker genes. Elsewhere, rustic and intensive breeds were compared for parasite resistance, carcase and meat quality, as well as the potential to exploit bioactive, tannin-rich forages. Citrus pulp diets reduced subsequent meat lipid oxidation, changes to grazing management reduced parasite infection (e.g. transhumance practices) and improved lambs' carcasses and fat composition (timing of grazing and/ or fertiliser application).

A few long-term studies showed potential integration of two or three factors (genetic, nutritional and/or grazing management) to control parasites or lamb quality.

Pigs

Subproject 3 focused on pigs, identifying breeds suited to low input systems; designing dedicated breeding systems, investigating heat tolerance, reduced piglet mortality and improved meat quality by breed choice and management. Conventional breeds suited commodity organic pork production, as did prolific, leaner traditional breeds, especially if crossed with conventional white boar breeds to give leaner carcasses. Rotational breeding proved a viable structure for Dutch organic pigs, especially with AI boars ranked to an organic selection index. Genetic analyses show breeding for heat tolerance is possible due to variation in existing lines. The effect of dam genetics and rearing on piglet mortality was assessed in both conventional and organic environments with genotype environment interactions detected. Conventionally, reared sows selected for low mortality had less piglet mortality compared with those of lower genetic merit, but the opposite was found for organic sows. Saddlebacks under organic conditions produced quality, dry fermented sausage in contrast to fast growing modern hybrids; however, if the price is not adapted to carcass or processing quality, Saddlebacks may not be economic.

Laying hens

The subproject on laying hens in free range and organic production a) developed a participatory system to optimise and test genotypes, b) optimized management for diet and feather pecking, c) extended productive life and d) assessed egg quality. Basic inputs came from farmers in France, Switzerland, and The Netherlands with observations and discussions in CH and NL. Most farms benchmarked production using (online) programs, giving a practical system to test genotypes across farms. They tend to have a long-term relationship with egg traders (CH) or rearing companies (NL), both being influential in breed choice. Brown egg strains dominated, although the proportion of White Leghorns did rise. Management of organic and free-range flocks are improving with better-suited genotypes, closing the production gap between barn and cage production. Modelling suggests heavier hens might be more profitable than existing genotypes, except in organic systems with high feed costs. Protein quality is a challenge in organic diets hindered by the EU ban on meat and bone or insect meal; hence, plant proteins were evaluated to replace imported soya.

By developing and integrating (a) genotypes selected for performance, robustness and product quality traits, and (b) management innovations to improve low input systems the project made a significant contribution towards regionally-adapted breeding strategies, compatible with sustainable production, high product quality and organic principles.

More information

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Veronika Maurer, FiBL Switzerland

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