One of the keys to raising healthy livestock, is the creation of an effective stress management program. Stress is especially harmful to animals grown for meat, milk or eggs. The word “Stress” in animal production is used to describe the detrimental effects of variety of factors on the health and performance of livestock and is certainly overlooked. Most common indicators of stress observed in animal production are: decreased growth, increased feed conversion rate, decreased egg or milk production, lowered livability and reproductivity, increased susceptibility to diseases and immune suppression.
There are a lot of stressful and challenging events in an animal’s life. These conditions need to be well managed to guarantee a good health and overall performance. Some critical periods during an animal’s lifetime are clearly defined:
- Young animals, especially during the postnatal period when the immune system may not be fully developed. Bridging the immunity gap – when the maternal immunity is gone and the newborn ‘s immune system is not well developed yet – is crucial in young animals. Not to forget the gastro-intestinal tract which is immature and needs to be populated with a beneficial microflora and needs to develop a functional immune system
- During the weaning period. Animals are exposed to different stress factors during this event: they are taken away from their mother and are receiving a different feed. Both events are challenging for the intestinal health and the immune system
- High production periods such as lactation and gestation. These periods require high energy and nutrient availability and consequently have a negative impact on immune function
- Intense vaccination programs which require an optimal function of the immune system to guarantee a good response and future protection against diseases
- Pathogen (viruses, bacteria or protozoa) and mycotoxin induced immunosuppression
- Transport, handling and movement from one house to the other
In addition to these events typically occurring in animal production cycles, other factors can contribute to the stress level and need to be well managed:
- Bad management and housing will cause stress. Optimize temperature and ventilation according the management guide, because heat and other environmental challenges should be avoided. Respect stocking density guidelines. Optimize feed composition conform the nutritional requirements and even consider supplementation of diets with ingredients that will bring stressed animals to full health
- Poor biosecurity will promote disease entrance and spread through the farm inducing a pathogen challenge to the immune system
- Antibiotic reduction and AGP removal programs. Among proper farm management and improved biosecurity, novel feed additives are helpful in reducing prophylactic as well as therapeutic use of antibiotics
If these stressful events are not well managed, it will impact both short term and long-term performances. Milk, meat and egg production will be impaired, not to exclude the negative effect on the immune and gastro-intestinal system.
Feed ingredients that could be of help in managing above stressful events are: