Every producer would like to find ways to reduce their input costs or improve production and quality of their product – if not both. Fluctuating feed and fuel costs, and uncertain market conditions make it necessary for farmers to adapt.
Farmers work with many factors over which they have no control. The final price at the sale barn or of their milk often bears no connection to the cost.
But there are companies looking at new ways – not necessarily new ways of farming, but rather new ways of looking at the insides of animals, how they process feed, how they can “maximize the productivity of farmers,” as put by Dr. Pearse Lyons, President and CEO of Alltech during a presentation on their North American Lecture Tour, Jan. 23.
Animals have their limits. At some point a cow can only give so much milk. The best Angus cow in the bunch does well with one calf every year.
But there are areas that may offer room for improvement.
Alltech is a worldwide Kentucky-based company specializing in nutrigenomics – a fancy word for the study of molecular relationships between nutrition and the response of genes, with the goal of finding out how subtle changes can affect animal health.
Another way to describe this is the ability to learn how to “feed the gene and not just the animal,” as Lyons described it. This may sound like scary science but according to Dr. Karl Dawson, head of worldwide research for Alltech, “Nutrigenomics is a powerful tool that will change what you do in your operation – if not tomorrow, within the next five years.”
Lyons added, “A beef animal is a walking fermenter – it has bugs inside that convert silage and forage into energy. We need to make them more efficient.”
The Irish-born Lyons is a seasoned world-traveler but he said, “Americans still have the best steaks in the world. But we get hung up on hormonal implants and antibiotics and the world doesn’t want that. They just want our beef.”
In his advice lay a subtle caution. He shared a story of the pork crisis that hit Ireland last December. Dioxin made its way into some swine feed and this resulted in a near-collapse of the Irish pork industry. Americans can still recall the mad cow crisis earlier in this decade. Lyons is a vocal advocate for traceability or as he puts it “from farm to fork.”
Lyons and his scientists spend most of their research time and money (according to Lyons, 15 percent of Alltech’s $500 million annual budget goes to R&D) on finding how changes in the composition of animals' diets can affect them. In some cases making their digestive system work better. Or how the animal converts feed into energy or what impact certain components might have on their reproductive system.
Lyons is quick to point out this is not genetic engineering. It is trying to find what natural elements might have an affect on how an animal processes its feed. The animal’s core DNA is not modified or changed – just the way it “behaves” when stimulated by adding or changing elements of their diet.
Presently Alltech has limited direct contact with producers in terms of their products but that is changing.
“I don’t have enough years left in my life to convince the middlemen that this is good for the farmer,” Lyons concluded, “Convincing the farmer is easy. Why? You put the stuff in and it works.”


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