Individualising farm animal husbandry

In this focus topic innovative methods and concepts are being developed to measure the individual needs and capacities of livestock and to take them into account in livestock farming.

Domestication and targeted breeding have resulted in livestock breeds that have largely homogeneous characteristics. Nevertheless, farm animals still show consistent individual differences in physiological and behavioural traits, or use different metabolic pathways or behavioural strategies for the same trait. This results in individually different abilities and needs, which standardised husbandry environments cannot meet.

The individual adaptive repertoires that affect animal health and welfare, but also the efficiency with which energy and nutrients are utilised, are based on intrinsic, genetic and epigenetic factors, and are influenced by exogenous factors such as climate, feeding, but also social interactions. We research individuality at all levels from genome to phenotype in order to understand the genetic, physiological and ethological mechanisms behind it and to derive valid indicators for animal welfare, animal health and efficiency. Digital solutions, such as Smart Livestock Farming, integrate bioindicators and sensor-based information and enable informed husbandry and management decisions. In combination with customised health and management strategies, they create resource-efficient, animal-specific care so that the full potential of all animals can be tapped without overtaxing their natural adaptability.

In summary, this Focus Topic creates the scientific basis for more individualised animal husbandry. Joint Projects will investigate the diversity of individual characteristics and their genetic, physiological and ethological mechanisms. They will provide evidence-based information and smart tools for more animal-friendly husbandry. We want to develop more individualised, innovative husbandry and management methods that use individual adaptability to promote the well-being and health of all animals.

Schweine spielen mit Forscherin
Monitor eines automatischen Fütterungssystems im Schweinestall

Joint projects

In this project we are investigating the individual reaction patterns of farm animals in interaction with their environment. Our aim is to understand the causes and correlations for these differences, the resistance to environmental stresses and diseases and the efficient utilisation of energy and nutrients.

Our project involves investigations at various biological levels. On the one hand, we are investigating the function of the genome and epigenome, which are causally responsible for individual predisposition. Then we look at diversity at the molecular level, specifically in the signalling pathways that regulate nutrient flows and cellular adaptation processes, including in the context of the immune response. However, the mechanisms of individual behavioural control are also being investigated, as well as the interaction of animals with their social environment, with a particular focus on positive social relationships.

Through this comprehensive research, we aim to develop a better understanding of the individual needs and responses of farm animals in order to derive appropriate bioindicators for welfare and animal health, as well as approaches for improvements in husbandry and management.

Following on from the first collaborative project, in which the basics of individuality were recorded, we want to build on this basis in the second collaborative project and derive animal-specific indicators for animal health, animal welfare and efficiency from this more basic research.

We are focussing on developing and validating meaningful indicators and biomarkers that can be used in a wide variety of husbandry environments and contexts. These include indicators for animal health, immune defence and diseases, for other aspects of animal welfare, and for energy and nutrient metabolism. Here, too, a wide range of biological levels are considered, from the genome and epigenome to physiological processes, e.g. in the gastrointestinal tract, muscle and fat tissue and the immune system, but the dynamics and rhythm of certain indicators are also analysed.

The bioindicators validated in this joint project will then be made accessible and usable for further basic and applied research, for industrial purposes and, above all, for farms in order to enable the individualised and situation-adapted care of livestock.

After the previous understanding and identification of livestock-related indicators, collaborative project 1.3 logically follows with the development of practical applications of such indicators.

In this project, we utilise automatically collected data through Smart Livestock Farming tools, such as milk yield, body condition, weight, feed and water intake, activity and location of animals. These data serve as indicators of animal health, welfare and performance. We need to apply or develop solutions and algorithms to collect and analyse indicators of animal welfare, health and efficiency under practical conditions. These technical solutions and the resulting data must be able to be integrated into husbandry and existing herd management programmes, complement them, add new aspects and ultimately enable precise predictions.

Smart solutions not only help with monitoring, but also with managing the animals to ensure they have access to important resources. Ultimately, these developments must then be embedded in barn construction concepts and animal management systems in order to sustainably record and improve animal health and welfare at the individual level.