Neonates are the new gateway to achieving lifetime performance

There is a growing body of research evidence across animal species that has identified that the neonate phase in an animal’s life can have a significant effect on the animal’s total life performance – for good or bad. This includes performance changes such as growth rate, feed conversion and milk production all of which have financial implications.

As an industry we are trying to get ‘more from less’ and neonates present a real opportunity for raising an animal’s performance for the rest of its life, helping us all as food producers to achieve greater performance than has been achieved before. Our own research in one particular area of neonate nutrition has led to some exceptional discoveries in whole life performance.

baby calves
As an industry we are trying to get 'more from less' and neonates present a real opportunity
Reduced Mortality

Improvements in breeding performance in pigs is leading to the production of more vulnerable neonates which need more inputs to prevent increases in mortality. We see increasing litter sizes with pigs associated with lower birth weights and higher mortality. Neonatal nutrition can help to reverse these pressures and trends in mortality.

Reduced Antibiotic Usage

As we seek to reduce antibiotic usage we have less in our armoury for supporting the neonate. Neonatal nutrition will help us to step in and fill the gap.

Neonatal and Maternal

We are just as interested in the first few days and weeks of an animal’s life as being formative for the rest of its life as we are prior to the animal being born, and even in the run up to conception. We are looking at all of these stages of development as opportunities to switch on lifetime performance and so are interested in the maternal influences on the neonate and its lifetime performance.

Our work with both swine and ruminants has shown that the earlier the neonate is fed particular diets, the more significant the outcome. Wider pig work clearly shows nutrition can influence the neonate around conception, at points during the pregnancy as well as shortly pre and post birth.

Short Window of Opportunity

The neonate presents us with a short window within which we can switch on its lifetime performance. Interestingly, the period of investment in the neonate is when animals are eating relatively small quantities of food, making the actual investment relative to the costs through the rest of the animal’s life very small. But if that investment is not made, the opportunities for developing similar levels of performance have been lost forever for that animal’s lifetime. It’s about investing wisely and at the right time.

It can be likened to Formula 1 racing. So much effort goes into getting into pole position through qualifying laps. Each team works so hard before the race so they can start in the best possible position. So many farmers just expect their piglets or calves to perform well after weaning. This is not the case and so neonatal nutrition is all about getting livestock into pole position and not leaving anything to chance.