NIR: Closing the loop in animal nutrition

Niels Bastian Kristiansen is a researcher in animal science and biological production management in animal agriculture. In recent years his focus has shifted from using traditional wet chemistry methods to using NIRS and FT-IR for diet optimization and production control.

How is NIR helping in your work?

Integration of NIRS and FT-IR technologies into our biological production systems (closing the big nutritional loop in animal agriculture) poses a tremendous potential for increasing the biological efficiency of animal production; decreasing the risks of nutritional stress, improving animal health, increasing food safety, minimizing the ecological footprint of animal products and the whole package at the same time.

The interesting aspect of some of our current projects is that we are building infrastructure around the analytical tools that expand the frequency of sampling and target analyses on steps in the biological production chain where we can use analytical information to make critical adjustments – and make adjustments faster. The strategic use of NIRS and FT-IR to establish strong feedback loops in the production and doing this on the big scale with large numbers of herds will be the next revolution in animal production, especially dairy production – at least that is my postulate, maybe even a vision.

How is NIR being used for forage analysis?

In Denmark feed analysis is done at central labs working in collaboration with the advisory service and the consortium behind the Scandinavian feed evaluation system NorFor. The feed labs exchange data with the feed table in DMS (Danish Dairy Management System), and the labs and feed evaluation system is working as an integrated unit. In this way farmers will automatically have their feed tables updated with the silage analyses as soon as they are completed at the lab.

Feed analyses are used for a number of different purposes that include: monitoring yield and quality of forage for optimizing agronomic aspects and harvest techniques in forage production, feeding value of forages for ration optimization and values on nitrogen and mineral content for calculating farm balances as well as documenting compliance with environmental regulations.

Can you give other any examples of NIR can be used?

In recent years we have documented a surprising sensitivity of dairy cows to the processes influenced by mixing feed rations. Based on these findings we are working with different technologies to monitor and assist farmers in optimizing feed mixing and these technologies includes NIR.

Aslo, NIR can help implement individual cow precision feeding. We are currently looking into the use of NIR and FT-IR technologies to monitor different groups within herds. Right now we are especially focused on improved monitoring programs for dry cows in the close-up period, i.e. from three weeks prepartum to parturition, because we have such a high sensitivity to nutrition in this period. The economic potential in providing dry cows with a well balanced ration in the close-up period compared with the opposite is almost the difference between success and failure of the entire operation.

What is the potential for future use of NIR?

NIR will be a cornerstone in ‘closing the big nutritional loop in animal agriculture’ and up until now we still haven’t made full use of NIR technology due to small ‘gaps’ in the loop. We are about to close these gaps and the beauty envisioned is that we can provide farmers with fundamentally improved information about his feed and production with just a minimum of extra work load for the farmer. The rest is infrastructure, analytical power, and data flowing in the ‘big loop’.

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