Farming animals in sustainable resource cycles

In this focus topic concepts for the use of biomass by livestock are developed. The environmental impact of emissions, the quality of the resulting products and economic-ecological consequences of potential measures are considered in models.

The growing world population and climate change require sustainable agriculture in which farm animals take a central role. Research in this focus area aims to improve nutrient cycles in order to ensure food security and environmental compatibility.

In order to make animal husbandry sustainable, we utilise regional biomass that is not suitable for human consumption. This reduces competition for food between humans and animals and promotes more environmentally friendly agriculture. We are researching alternative feedstuffs such as insects and algae, which could not only protect the environment but also reduce the consumption of mineral resources. At the same time, we are committed to reducing emissions from animal feed utilisation in order to minimise the environmental impact.

Our research focuses on understanding the biological mechanisms of digestion and nutrient allocation in animals, including the role of the microbiome. We also investigate how the use of new feedstuffs affects animal health and the quality of animal products.

To assess the ecological and economic impact of our measures, we use eco-economic models that take into account nutrient flows in the animal. In doing so, we ensure that agricultural resources and environmental impacts are taken into account appropriately. The focus area is committed to organising livestock farming within sustainable limits defined by available resources, environmental impact and the need for high-quality food of animal origin.

Joint projects

In order to minimize use competition between food and feed and optimize resource cycles, new sources of feed should be used that are preferably available in our region. Competition can be reduced by using feeds that are largely unsuitable for human consumption. The possible substitution in highly productive husbandry systems must be scientifically sound and take animal welfare into account. The project includes highly standardized feeding trials in experimental animal facilities as well as collaborations with farmers from the field in which specific feeds or forage plants such as hemp or comfrey are used or pasture management is investigated. The nutritional value, digestibility and impact on the microbiome as well as the metabolism of the animals, their health and welfare and finally the impact on product quality are evaluated. This is related to Focus Topic Promoting diversity in animal farming, as in this context it is necessary to investigate whether the breeds currently mainly used are still best suited to the changing composition of feed rations (breed-environment interactions) or whether there are shifts within breeds in terms of the breeding values of the animals (genotype-environment interactions).

Working Groups:

Feed use efficiency has been significantly improved in recent decades through a continuous increase in the performance of livestock, optimized nutrient supply, improved husbandry conditions and breeding advances. The result is a significantly lower environmental and climate impact per unit of product (e.g. kg of milk). A further sustainable increase in resource efficiency can be achieved by placing more emphasis on the characteristics of nitrogen, phosphorus and fiber use efficiency and continuing to reduce environmental impacts from nutrient inputs and greenhouse gases. The project includes feeding, behavioral, and husbandry management measures, as well as breeding approaches to improve nitrogen and phosphorus use efficiency. Mechanisms of nutrient acquisition and allocation, including host-microbiome interactions, will be investigated, and implications for animal health and welfare and product quality and safety will be considered.

In order to assess the impact of measures to increase the use of non-edible biomass and to reduce emissions on the economic and ecological aspects of livestock farming, scalable models and digital twins will be created at farm and regional level. Research results from collaborative projects of all Focus Topics, especially from Focus Topic “Farming animals in sustainable resource cycles”, will provide new insights and data on the cycle element "animal", on the use of different feeds in terms of their usability, effects on performance, animal welfare and health as well as on product quality and finally on excreta and emissions, which will be incorporated into corresponding ecological-economic models. To this end, existing collaborations with international, national and regional partners will be expanded and expertise will be built up at the FBN to carry out corresponding projects.