Livestock Innovation
Brought to you by LRIC
September 2020
Innovation Insights
Mike McMorris, LRIC CEO

Time for an Ontario Livestock Manifesto?

About a year ago, Manitoba launched their provincial Protein Strategy.

It is a public and proud declaration that protein (plant and animal) is key to the Manitoba economy and it sets out clear objectives for growth with whole industry support.

Livestock production is big business in Ontario, generating billions in annual farm cash receipts. And yet as Ontario’s population grows, people get further removed from the farm and agriculture in general becomes less of a focus for government. 

It seems that livestock producers and their organizations are forced to play defence more and more. A livestock manifesto could change that and make a statement that livestock matters, it is here to stay and it is committed to growth. Such a manifesto would need support of all livestock sectors, others in the supply chain (feed processors, input suppliers, processors), and government.  It is not a small undertaking.

And yet, do we have a choice? 

Consider the growing challenges that can’t be tackled by any individual sector. These include: preparation for a multi-species disease emergency; consumer concern about a trusted food supply (a concern heightened during COVID); the prospect of competing with livestock-free products (meat, eggs and milk); access to qualified labour; and the implementation of data systems that actually show a return on investment for farmers. 

The idea of working together for mutual benefit is not new and there are good examples like Ontario Livestock and Poultry Council with a focus on biosecurity; Farm and Food Care Ontario focused on public trust; and Livestock Research and Innovation Corporation with a focus on research and innovation.

Each has demonstrated success within their area of focus but the time seems right to take the next step and create a manifesto that makes a statement of strength and resolve on behalf of the entire livestock sector.
Open calls for Letters of Intent
The following calls for research Letters of Intent are currently open:

Ontario Pork call for proposals, deadline October 16, 2020

Beef Cattle Research Council call for proposals for research chairs, deadline October 1, 2020
Sector-specific
Poultry: Broiler chicks' distress calls a sign of stress?
Animal welfare and behavioural scientists from the UK believe broiler chicks make distress calls in response to stressors in their environments, like cold, heat, social isolation or food or water restriction. All chicks will call during their first day in a new barn, but if calls continue, it's a sign of other stressors that should be addressed.

Swine: "Piglet balconies" boost performance in weaner pigs
A recent trial at veterinary school in Germany has found that weaner pigs in pens with an extra platform perform better than those living in pens with a single floor. A ramped, balcony-style plateau in each pen was found to be a cheap solution to give pigs extra living space, resulting in less aggression and more rapid weight gain.

Beef: Climate change may decrease pasture quality
Brazilian and US researchers are concluding that climate change may result in worsening pasture conditions for grazing cattle. The anticipated 2C increase in average temperatures will create encourage plant species that are lower in protein and more fibrous, which are harder for cattle to digest. This means animals will need more feed to reach slaughter weight and may also produce more methane.
Dairy: Milk can predict methane emissions in dairy cows
Researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have shown that methane emissions of dairy cows can be predicted using milk fatty acids and milk infrared spectra. And although milk fatty acids were found to be more accurate, milk infrared spectra is easier to use, the study concluded. This research is part of ongoing greenhouse gas reduction efforts in the Netherlands and the European Union.

Aquaculture: Can food from the sea feed a hungry world?
With land-based or in-land aquaculture is facing expansion constraints in many parts of the world, a global consortium of researchers has estimated that the ocean-based aquaculture sector could boost its production by 36 to 74% over current yields by 2050. This would represent 12 - 25% of the estimated additional meat production the world will need to feed a global population of 9.8 billion people.

Small ruminants: Sheep the gold standard for solar grazing
Agrivoltaics - integrating agricultural uses into solar panel installations - is emerging as a solution to land-use challenges and the rising cost of solar array management. Sheep in particular can be used to manage vegetation growth in solar farms, at costs of up to 30% less than traditional landscape maintenance. They've also been deemed the gold standard for grazing animals in solar installations since they don't jump on the panels.

Cross-sector
Feed: Additives could lessen disease transmission risk
The risk of viral disease transmission is ever-present for livestock producers, especially in the pork sector. A collaborative study in the US has found that different feed additives - from essential oils to formaldehyde-based products - have mitigated the effects of three viral swine diseases found in contaminated feed: Senecavirus A, Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus and Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome virus. Work on virus-mitigating label claims is now underway.

Climate change: breed type doesn't influence cattle methane emission
Scientists in Wales have found that breed type has little impact on methane emission levels in cattle. Instead, pasture type and location were a much more significant indicator of amount of methane produced per animal per day.

Automation: effectiveness of agtech solutions on ranches being put to the test
A three-year Western Canada project evaluating the effectiveness of various agtech solutions on cattle ranches is now underway. Twenty ranching operations will test innovations ranging from drones to find and monitor grazing livestock to DNA testing for hybrid vigour evaluation.

On the horizon
Sustainability: One challenge, many answers, three approaches
The question of whether grazing livestock support or hinder the conservation of grasslands continues to be debated. University of Alberta professor Cameron Carlyle proposes a systems approach to enhancing grassland biodiversity and ecosystem services that involves aligning livestock genetics and behaviour with desired landscape outcomes.

Alternative proteins: what the meat industry could learn from Impossible Foods
It's time for the livestock and poultry industries to be proactive on innovation to secure a stable future for animal proteins, writes the author of the weekly Prime Future newsletter. That includes significant investment into innovation that aligns the way meat is produced, processed and sold with changing consumer preferences - following the lead of Impossible Meats and Fairlife Milk.

Climate change: why is no one talking about agriculture as a solution?
Agriculture has enormous climate change mitigating capacities that aren't been harnessed, suggests the CEO of Vancouver-based Terramera. Instead, governments pay farmers to maintain the status quo - but with some out of the box thinking, agriculture could pivot to a lower impact future the doesn't rely on depriving consumers of the products they love.

Thanks for reading. We'd love to hear your feedback about LRIC - both about what we're doing and what you think we should be doing! Please contact us at info@livestockresearch.ca with any questions or comments.