PROHEALTH Research

There are a number of research areas within PROHEALTH, and the findings of each section will then inform the next research section. 

This flow diagram shows the relationship between PROHEALTH sub-projects:

 

Flow

Research Topics

Risk factors

Lead: Ghent University

Partners: CCPA GroupCopenhagen UniversityCorenLukeNewcastle UniversityPigChamp ProPig Research CentrePoultry Health ServicesVedankoWarsaw University of Life Sciences


Summary  of Objectives:

  • Assess the current health and welfare situation across Europe

  • Score biosecurity and management practices in pig and poultry farms

  • Quantify risk and protective factors in pigs in a standardized way in 9 EU countries

  • Quantify risk and protective factors in poultry in a standardized way in 7 EU countries


What causes disease? Are our European animals happy and healthy?

The aim of this first project is to look at existing pig and poultry health data to try and work out what the causes of production diseases are, and to spot any current trends in disease. This is a difficult task as there is a huge variation within management systems of livestock within Europe; within different countries, regions and even within individual farms! The first objective is to assess the current situation for our European pigs and poultry.

The handy thing is that we have the data already, as farms and abattoirs collect information. However, this data needs to be a good representation of the whole industry in a certain country- not just the cherry on the top! To do this, 50-500 herds or flocks per country will be investigated over a period of time looking for changes in disease prevalence and severity alongside welfare conditions and productivity. We will then be able to look for possible trends between health, welfare and production between different production systems. We can even look for trends in different animal classes, for example, between sows and piglets, or between different housing systems.

There are a number of different factors that can affect production of animals, for example use of antibiotics may reduce risk of animal disease, whereas good biosecurity practices on-farm may be a protective factor. The University of Ghent has made online questionnaires to be able to allow comparison between farms and to be able to score biosecurity practices for pig and poultry farms.

The farm and abattoir data will then be used with the questionnaire results to identify the main risk factors in production disease. There may be different predisposing factors for disease in different countries. The end result is that when the causes of diseases are identified, we can then formulate recommendations to improve them.


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Neonatal survival

Lead: Newcastle University

Partners: CCPA GroupCopenhagen UniversityINRAJSR Genetics,Pig Research CentreVitatrace Nutrition.


Summary of Objectives

  • Explore the role of nutritional and environment influences on health:

    • Effect of housing conditions on survival

    • Role of diet in piglet survival

  • Explore the role of genetics and environment

    • Role of positive handling on maternal behaviour

  • Modulation of milk composition to improve immunity

  • Egg disinfection strategies to reduce disease


How can juvenile survival and health be improved?

The aim of this project is to explore what affects survival of piglets and chicks, and how parental care may affect the survival of offspring. This is a large project which can be broken down into a number of questions:


How does sow housing and diet affect piglet growth and immunity?

During intensification of farming, modifications have been made to the housing of pigs- moving away from straw beds to slatted floors. A recent study showed that keeping sows on slatted floors during pregnancy is actually more stressful and causes sows to be unhealthier. We will investigate if stress of pigs affects the survival of piglets, and if it is possible to reduce the impact of stress.

The effect of an enriched environment with straw bedding and additional space will be compared to slatted floor systems, and we will look at differences in sow and piglet behaviour, health and immunity. Various data will be collected including litter size, piglet growth rates, social and maternal behaviour. Dietary enrichment may also help to reduce stress of pigs in an intensive management system, which may in turn affect piglet health. The effect of a high-fibre and high-fat diet during pregnancy designed to reduce feeding frustration will be compared with a conventional diet.


How do sow genetics and management affect parenting of piglets? What is the long term effect?

What makes a good mum? Well genetics may be the answer! We are designing a study to help identify what makes a good mother, what the genetic traits are, and what management can ultimately improve piglet survival. Inheritance of sow traits such as lying style, restlessness, nursing ability and colostrum quality will be investigated in both crated and loose farming systems. The impact of positive handling by the farmer to help relax the sow in the period of time between entering her farrowing pen and giving birth will be explored to help minimise sow stress. Piglet survival, immunity and temperature regulation will also be studied.


How can milk composition be optimised for immunity?

Colostrum produced in the first lactation contains antibodies from the mother, which provides piglets with a temporary immunity until their immune systems can produce their own antibodies. When sows are vaccinated, antibody levels circulating in the bloodstream peak and wane with time. Clever hormonal intervention means that the amount of antibodies transferred from the blood to the milk of lactating pigs may be increased after vaccination, which will increase antibody transfer to the piglet- boosting their immunity. The effect of this hormone therapy will be evaluated, and piglet weight, health and immunity will be recorded.

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Does egg disinfection reduce bacterial infections and mortality of chicks?

E. Coli and Enterococcus faecalis are bacterial infections which are a major cause of death of embryos and chicks in their first week of life. Long term infection of parents also causes disease such as arthritis. The transmission of bacteria from hen to egg will be investigated, as well as the role of soiled eggs and bedding. One way to reduce bacteria transmission is egg disinfection, so different disinfection procedures will be used and the effects on mortality and whole-life health will be investigated in this study.

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Genetic susceptibility

Lead: INRA

Partners: AviagenCCPA GroupCopenhagen UniversityLukeNewcastle University.

 

Summary of objectives:

  • Identify traits to describe animal responses, including animal-based welfare indicators, during production diseases

  • Define the relationship between genetics and production diseases

  • Design strategies to reduce the susceptibility to leg disorders through management, physical activity and nutrition

  • Describe and quantify the animal production responses to challenges to inform economic modelling

  • Provide blood, tissue and faeces samples for further analysis


What are the most relevant traits to characterize the animal during production diseases?

To find out what the most important animal health and welfare traits are affecting production disease, data from independent scientific studies will be compiled in to a common database to be shared by Prohealth partners. Additionally, data from controlled trials will be collected and analysed to assess the impact of diseases on production, and blood, faeces and tissue samples from these studies will be produced and analysed to help look for novel indicators of production diseases.


How do genetics affect health?

Selection for productive traits is suspected to increase the susceptibility of animals to develop/to be affected by production diseases. A number of studies will then be carefully designed to investigate the effect of genetics on production diseases in animals, such as:

 

  •     Susceptibility of chickens to Coccidiosis 
  •     Susceptibility of pigs and chickens to locomotory disorders
  •     Susceptibility of pigs to digestive and respiratory disorders

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How to reduce leg disorders?

Different management systems of laying hens, broilers and growing pig can affect their bone and cartilage quality, increasing risk of developing leg disorders such as osteoarthritis,osteoporosis and osteochondrosis. Activity levels, age, housing conditions and nutrition will all be assessed to find the ideal management conditions for preserving the bone development and longevity. 

Farm environment

Lead: PigChamp Pro

Partners: Copenhagen UniversityCorenGhent UniversityPoultry Health ServicesTivixVedankoVitatrace Nutrition.


Summary of objectives:

  • Modify an existing protocol of data collection from pig and poultry farms
  • Determine the role of farm environmental factors on the expression of production disease over time
  • Determine the role of the microbial environment on the expression of production disease over time
  • Develop IT systems for automatic capture and processing of environmental and health data

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How does the farm environment affect production disease over time? How can we utilise technology?

To understand what factors affect production diseases over time, advanced digital technology will be used to monitor a number of environmental measurements such as temperature, humidity and gases. Sensors with wireless transmission via mobile phone SIM cards can be used on many farms across the world and are very reliable, affordable and robust. New data capture methods will be developed in this project to make collection of clinical data easier, by means of a digital pen, digitised forms and smartphone apps.

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Real-time data generated using these sophisticated methods can then be used to relate environmental conditions to disease and welfare in production animals, by measuring disease prevalence, death rates and welfare outcomes. 

These new collection methods will be used to study pig diseases such as Clostridiosis (causing sudden death), porcine respiratory disease complex, tail-biting, sow lameness and piglet diarrhoea and epidemitis. Poultry diseases investigated will include neonatal mortality from various bacterial causes, chronic septicaemia, leg-weakness, heart and lung conditions, enteritis and reproductive infections.

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Microbiology and Immunology

Lead: University of Nottingham 

Partners: INRAPoultry Health ServicesVeterinary Research Institute


Summary of objectives:

  • Develop methods for the preparation of tissue, blood and faecal samples

  • Assess how certain host genes affect production disease

  • Determine how host gut bacteria affect susceptibility to production disease

  • Develop novel diagnostics

  • Predict how diet and management changes could help reduce production disease

 

How will samples be analysed?

To compare data fairly from different farms, different animals and different Prohealth projects, samples taken need to be processed in the same way. A clear method will be developed for the preparation of blood, tissue and faeces from other Prohealth projects to enable efficient downstream analysis. Various scientific assays will be carried out including immunological assays, and DNA techniques.



How do genetics affect production disease?

Sequencing of animal and pathogen genomes should identify differences in certain genes which may play a role in production disease. Statistical analysis will be used to identify which genes are expressed at higher levels, comparing samples from diseased animals and controls. The aim is to identify genes which may affect disease susceptibility in both the host and pathogen.


How could host gut bacteria affect production disease?


The healthy gut of an animal contains a wide variety of beneficial bacteria. However, stress, diet and genetics could affect the balance of normal gut bacteria with harmful bacteria. The presence of different bacteria in the gut of different animals from different management systems will be studied to see if there are any crucial differences that could be linked to susceptibility to various production diseases.

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How will novel diagnostics be developed?

The data gathered from these tests may identify possible routes for disease intervention to suppress the effects of disease, or identify biological markers which could help diagnose disease. This data will be then be used to help design reduction strategies for production diseases, which will be trialled later in the project.

Reduction strategy

Lead: Newcastle University

Partners: AviagenCCPA GroupCorenLUKEPoultry Health ServicesPigChamp ProVedanko,  Vitatrace NutritionWarsaw University of Life Sciences


Summary of objectives:

  • To develop strategies to reduce production diseases on pig and poultry farms based on the outcomes of previous Prohealth studies

  • To carry out farm scale testing of specific improvement strategies designed

  • To provide farm-level data for the estimate of the economic consequences of the above specific intervention strategies


Putting results into practice- How can we reduce production diseases?

The aim of this project is to apply the scientific advances made through PROHEALTH research to design improvement strategies for production disease. The results will be compared with the current scientific literature, and the improvement theory will be tested in large-scale farm intervention studies. Examples of these may be vaccination, nutritional treatments and improvements to management, biosecurity and the environment.

Pig and poultry farms which suffer from at least one production disease will be used and a total of up to 10 improvements will then be tested on different farms. Welfare outcomes will be measured to assess the benefits of the improvement strategy, alongside costs, disease prevalence, production performance and costs of veterinary care. A common spreadsheet will then be compiled to enable the costs and benefits of the improvement strategies to be modelled in the next section.

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Socio-Economics

Lead: Luke

Partners: EFFABINRANewcastle UniversityUniversity of ReadingZoetis.


Summary of objectives:

  • Investigate socio-economic impacts of production diseases, particularly their ethical and cost and production efficiency related aspects
  • Identify key issues and future possibilities in animal health
  • Assess whether consumers in different countries accept the proposed interventions, and assess their priorities in relation to animal antibiotic use, human and animal health and information needs
  • Estimate the financial and economic consequences of proposed interventions
  • Assess the value-added potential of interventions and new business opportunities and draw policy recommendations that can add value on the sustainability of pig and poultry systems in Europe

What are the socio-economic costs of production diseases?

Potential animal and human health issues of production diseases will be reviewed extensively at the start of the socio-economic research of the PROHEALTH project. Besides production efficiency aspects, also the views of stakeholders and consumers will be examined. Findings from independent studies will be compiled to assess consumer attitudes and willingness to pay for reduction in production diseases, and farm economic implications for reducing diseases. This will support holistic measurement of approaches to reduce production diseases.


What are the stakeholder perspectives on disease intervention?

For a disease intervention to be successful and sustainable, stakeholder acceptance is very important. A stakeholder consultation will provide insight into which interventions are feasible from both a socio-economic and health and welfare perspective. The views, opinions, concerns and ethical judgements from 125 stakeholders along the food chain from five countries will be considered. Stakeholders will include input industries to farming: including veterinary services, pig and poultry farms, animal transport and auction markets, abattoirs, food processors and manufacturers, and food wholesalers and retailers. A consensus will then be reached on which measures are feasible from their perspective. Social media analysis and interviews will also be used to complement this analysis.


What do consumers want?

Consumers, and citizens, are a critical stakeholder in the pig and poultry industry- their priorities and perceptions affect their willingness to purchase pork and poultry products. Therefore, a large-scale quantitative consumer survey will be carried out spanning 1500 individuals over 5 countries to ascertain consumer priorities regarding production diseases and intervention policies, as well as their information needs. The respondents will be asked about their concerns, perceptions, attitudes, expectations, ethical views and purchase intentions regarding pig and poultry products, intensive food production, animal welfare and sustainability, and approval of different interventions.


What is the farm-level benefit of intervention?

A proposed intervention for production disease needs to have economic benefit to the farmer for them to implement it. Clever biological models can simulate the scale of disease and animal welfare issues over time in the herd, and the costs associated with the disease. The financial impact of intervention can then be estimated as a result of the predicted performance, disease prevalence, mortality and other aspect affecting revenues and production costs. This will reveal economically viable measures which maximise returns to pig and poultry production.


How do interventions benefit the value-chain?

A value chain model will be developed to evaluate the economic benefits and losses of interventions along the value chain and to conclude whether there are business opportunities which promote competiveness, resilience and sustainability of the industry. The results will show economic barriers and facilitators of animal-friendly, disease-reducing policies.

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Economic and other relationships determining value across the livestock product chain.