Nutrition

Background

MRC: The start for new poultry solutions

With almost 300 trials per year and over 1,600 different animal diets tested, the MiXscience Research Center (MRC) is an important asset for companies to test and further improve their products and applications. What are the latest insights for poultry?

Animal diets or feed additives may look nice on paper, but it is all about how the feed and additives behave in real animals, kept under real farm conditions. Most of the feed companies therefore collaborate with external research farms or commercial farms to test the products in practice before they enter the market. The French animal nutrition company MiXscience, part of the Avril Group, has the luxury of owning its own research centre located in Pays de la Loire, a region in western France, consisting of 214 hectares of research facilities for cattle, poultry, pigs, rabbits and crops. The monogastric facility is shared with 2 other companies in a legal structure called ­Euronutrition. MiXscience does its own trials here, but can for example also collaborate on research programmes with the other 2 companies. The dairy facility is fully owned by MiXscience. In total, 55 people work at the MRC and 35 researchers of MiXscience are linked with these facilities for their work. The MRC has its own small feed plant with a capacity of 2,800 tonnes. We caught up with Baptiste Lepauvre, head of communication at MRC to learn more about the facilities.

Baptiste Lepauvre: “After the testing at our own facilities we also gather data from real farmers when they start using our products. We work with a group of poultry farmers for this.” Photo: Emmy Koeleman
Baptiste Lepauvre: “After the testing at our own facilities we also gather data from real farmers when they start using our products. We work with a group of poultry farmers for this.” Photo: Emmy Koeleman

Focus on innovation and solutions

Around 60 years ago, the first trials began at the MRC by the Sanders Group, the compound animal feed business and part of the Avril Group. Since then, the focus has changed from doing ‘simple’ trials to conducting more and advanced trials, involving many studies with specialised products. Considering that a MiXscience product is mixed to feed 450 million broilers and 15 million layers per year, the impact on the global poultry feed sector is big. Innovation and product development are therefore key topics for this French company. “With the increased use of feed additives we also see more research in this area. More feed additives enter the market space and also more additives are used at the same time in one diet. It is therefore important to know how to make them work in the total feed matrix, without losing their characteristics and performance. In our research we focus on combining nutrition, techniques and formulation of new products to make them work better and more efficiently,” explains Mr Lepauvre. “But next to the technical and formulation challenges of products, we also strongly focus on increasing our knowledge of raw materials and product quality amongst others. Raw materials research delves into digestibility, palatability and nutritional quality of conventional feed ingredients. In addition, we look at new raw materials and protein sources that enter the world of animal feed, such as protein concentrates, insects and algae for example,” he added.

The French animal nutrition company MiXscience, part of the Avril Group, has the luxury of owning its own research centre located in Pays de la Loire, a region in western France. Photo: Fred Mouraud
The French animal nutrition company MiXscience, part of the Avril Group, has the luxury of owning its own research centre located in Pays de la Loire, a region in western France. Photo: Fred Mouraud

Many diets tested in poultry

With almost 300 trials per year and over 1,600 different animal diets tested, MRC is one of the biggest research facilities in Europe. The premises consist of a number of farms, housing:

  • 220 sows
  • 6,000 piglets
  • 1,500 fattening pigs
  • 6,000 broiler birds (chicken and turkey)
  • 1,200 layers
  • 160 rabbit does
  • 1,200 fattening places for rabbits
  • 10,000 produced rabbits
  • 120 bulls

A new cow building with a capacity of 140 cows was built 3 years ago, giving the cow nutrition research a big boost. Like for all farms at MRC, the poultry facilities function like a commercial farm. However, the barns are designed a bit different than real life farms, as in having more pens per building. This is needed to be able to test different diets for smaller groups of birds.

Like for all farms at MRC, the poultry facilities function like a commercial farm. However, the barns are designed a bit different than real life farms, as in having more pens per building. Photo: Fred Mouraud
Like for all farms at MRC, the poultry facilities function like a commercial farm. However, the barns are designed a bit different than real life farms, as in having more pens per building. Photo: Fred Mouraud

Palatability and digestibility trials

At the poultry facilities at MRC, zootechnical, palatability and digestibility trials are being done. The digestibility trials involve individual measuring, allowing to study the animals in different stages in their production cycle, from day old chicks to heavy turkeys. The dedicated barns for zootechnical trials can house 400 birds at the same time. Those trials are done for all fowl species. The Ross 308 is the basic breed used on the farm. For the roosters, for digestibility, MRC uses Isa Brown genetics. “We always use the same breeds in our trials and we work according to the European protocol for digestibility trials, consisting of a floor management period, an adaptation period, a fasting period, a testing period of the feed, followed by a fasting period and the collection of faeces and feed residues. A great thing is that the barns are designed to easily collect the faeces. Analysing the chicken droppings is important to study the effectivity of an enzyme for example,” explains Lepauvre.

At the poultry facilities at MRC, zootechnical, palatability and digestibility trials are being done. Photo: Fred Mouraud
At the poultry facilities at MRC, zootechnical, palatability and digestibility trials are being done. Photo: Fred Mouraud

From MRC to real farmers

“Everything is very much controlled with a great precision on feed and water intake. We test different feed formulations and existing product at different levels. With the increasing use of products there is need to test new solutions and existing materials to see how they behave next to each other in one feed formulation. In addition, we also test different kinds of raw materials from different countries and/or customers. The MRC is a great way to learn how feed additives behave in farm conditions and to learn what dosage is needed to get the best result, as in developing a formulation matrix. After the testing at our own facilities we also gather data from real farmers when they start using our products. We work with a group of poultry farmers for this.” The latest investments in the MRC were focused on revamping the dairy cow building. The next steps will be focused on modernising the poultry units. “They work well for our trials, but we want to add a free range poultry system to look at what is happening in the market, for example, free range and organic farming are increasing, which is also reflected in the trials we will do in the future,” Lepauvre concludes.

New solutions for poultry

MiXscience has developed the VSTAR technology® to vectorise feed ingredients. One of the latest solutions with this vectorisation technology for poultry is Lumigard®, a feed solution that supports the intestinal microbiota balance, and performance. Gut microbiota balance promoting products are very important in the total solution to reduce antibiotic use in livestock. Also added to the poultry product portfolio from the French company is Betahit, a complex solution that is used to limit the effects of stresses in poultry. Trials at MRC with this product showed better growth performance (average daily gain) and a better feed conversion ratio (FCR) compared to the control group in hot conditions. Using the product also numerically increased water consumption, without changing the ratio of water/feed and without litter degradation. Also meat quality was improved, which is an economically interesting fact for poultry producers. The product was also tested in Senegal, and new trials are being planned in Colombia and Brazil.