Why would you find seaweed in a farrowing house?

“You wouldn’t,” is usually the response you would get. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

The answer comes from Jonas Juhl, manager of the Jutland section of an 8,000 strong sow herd spread across six Jutland and Zealand farms under the control of family-owned company Kjær Knudsen. Since 2020, he has exper­i­mented with mixing lactic acid-fermented rape­seed and seaweed into the herd’s feed, and he has seen better animal well­being on all fronts.

Following an economic down­turn in 2019, it became neces­sary to kick-start produc­tion. And one way to achieve this was to improve the health and well­being of the sows. Juhl was already aware of Euro­pean Protein, a company which was exper­i­menting with the devel­op­ment of locally sourced protein, primarily for pigs. Juhl entered into an agree­ment with Jens Legath, owner of Euro­pean Protein, to include rape­seed and seaweed protein in the feed – initially for the Jutland herds.

Jonas Juhl (left) and Jens Legarth (right) agreed to mix lactic acid-fermented rape­seed and seaweed into the herd’s feed.

Euro­pean Protein’s EP199 product is now used by both Jutland and Zealand parts of the busi­ness, and it is a perma­nent ingre­dient in the sow feed. “Simply put, we don’t want to do without it, and we use it both during gesta­tion and in the farrowing houses,” says Juhl.

Gut bacteria vigi­lance

Jens Legarth explains: “The secret ingre­dient of the feed is the lactic acid-fermented seaweed and rape­seed. During fermen­ta­tion, protein is broken down into amino acids, which interact with the lactic acid bacteria and dietary fibres (prebi­otics) to balance the intestinal flora posi­tively.” In layman’s terms, the intestinal flora becomes more alert to infec­tion and possibly inflam­ma­tory attack, enabling it, for example, to outcom­pete bacteria, and avoid bouts of diar­rhoea.

We haven’t used zinc for over two years and have reduced the use of antibi­otics, yet we are seeing both sows and piglets thrive more than ever before.

Jonas Juhl

Juhl agrees: “We haven’t used zinc for over two years and have reduced antibi­otic use, yet we are seeing both sows and piglets thrive more than ever before.” This state­ment is backed up by the graphics shown on a huge TV screen, detailing the week-by-week devel­op­ments in sow and farrowing houses.

All six compa­nies in the Kjær Knudsen Group are connected to the screen, which means that everyone can track devel­op­ments at any time. As most of the company’s 80 employees are Ukrainian, all text is shown in both Danish and Ukrainian.

The secret of the feed is the lactic acid-fermented seaweed and rape­seed.

Jens Legarth

Juhl plots the indi­vidual para­me­ters: Number of live births per litter 18.8 and number weaned, 17.7. “Piglets have reached 7.5kg after three weeks when they are weaned” he points out. Each sow gives birth to an average of 2.27 litters per year, deliv­ering 40.3 weaned piglets on an annual basis. The farrowing rate is 83%, and only a few need to return to service. ‘While sow mortality in Denmark is increasing, hitting an average of 16.1% in herds owned by Kjær Knudsen in 2022 it was only 8 to 15%.

Today, all 8,000 sows on the six farms of the Kjær Knudsen family group receive Euro­pean Protein’s lactic acid-fermented rape­seed and algae feed.

A healthy mother produces healthy offspring

A lot has been said about the health of sows and their ability to repro­duce. But how do piglets fare after weaning? “Very well indeed,” says Juhl’s. “And there are many reasons why.”

Firstly, he points out that a healthy sow can be more active and able to provide her piglets with much more milk. Secondly, it means that the piglets in each litter are of more equal size, resulting in more evenly distrib­uted compe­ti­tion for teats. In addi­tion, the piglets are more vigorous and have a great appetite.

The farm produces more than 300,000 piglets every year. These show more vitality and great appetite after the sows have received the fermented feed.

Over the course of a whole year, piglet mortality has stood at 8%, and piglets are coming out of the weaning process on average, 1kg heavier than before. This means an increase to 7.5kg after weaning. Juhl looks satis­fied, although Legarth doesn’t look too surprised. “A healthy mother produces healthy offspring. It’s just the way it is. Both in the animal kingdom and for humans,” says Legarth.

About Euro­pean Protein

The company was founded in 2011 by Jens Legarth. The under­lying concept was to improve the health of animals in a natural way and increase produc­tivity in the animal feed manu­fac­turing sector using dry and lactic acid-fermented plant protein. Fermen­ta­tion has enabled the company to develop a vision of using more locally sourced proteins, making the EU self-suffi­cient in protein and reducing the carbon foot­print due to the impor­ta­tion of soya.

In the same year, the company launched a new protein based on fermented rape­seed extract – a by-product of rape­seed oil produc­tion.

Although the first prod­ucts made by the company were primarily aimed at commer­cial pig farmers, the company’s range has now been extended to include poultry, game, horses, and other species.

The seaweed used in the company’s prod­ucts is primarily sourced from the Faroe Islands, as well as from suppliers in other parts of the world. The prod­ucts are sold in the USA, Europe, South Africa, and Asia.

Produc­tion takes place at a factory in Midtjyl­land ved Vejle, where six employees currently work. The next gener­a­tion of the Legarth family is involved in the firm.

Read more at www.europeanprotein.com

Better results

Even if the fermented feed EP199 has a higher price, its use still pays off. This is mainly due to the higher number of weaned piglets, which increased by 4.6 piglets per sow and year.

“The recom­men­da­tion is for a 6-9% mix in the feed,” Juhl says. ” We followed that initially, but we can now see that a mix of 4-6% gives the biggest return. We can also see that the younger the animal is when we intro­duce EP199, the better the result.”

EP199, here in the pure version, promotes gastroin­testinal health and the immune system of sows.

6 to 9% share of the feed is recom­mended, but Juhl has found the best results with a propor­tion of 4 to 6%.

There are also envi­ron­mental bene­fits. Rape­seed and seaweed replace imported soya, and, because the product enables increased absorp­tion of nutri­ents, less nitrogen and phos­phorus are excreted by pigs in their manure.

Bottom line: In light of all the gains made, the increase in well­being in the farrowing house and the posi­tive devel­op­ment of the company’s bottom line, Juhl recom­mends others to try the product. “But, the fact that our pigs can be priced more compet­i­tively is very impor­tant,” says Juhl. So it was essen­tial for Juhl that the addi­tional costs could be recouped, and that is what’s happening.

Conclu­sion: With the success that Jonas Juhl can see both in the well-being in the barn and in the oper­a­tional balance, he can only recom­mend the use of the fermented feed to others.

It works – but how?

Backed by £7 million (EUR 9 million) of funding from the EU’s Horizon programme, a study will be conducted to estab­lish why lactic acid-fermended seaweed bene­fits the health of sows.

“We have plenty of docu­men­ta­tion to show that lactic acid-fermented seaweed and rape­seed benefit sow health, but we don’t know exactly why,” says Jens Legarth at Euro­pean Protein.

After having worked with fermented feeds for many years, he is looking forward to piecing together more infor­ma­tion that will explain why lactic acid-fermented protein helps change several markers in sows.

The EU-spon­sored project – called Project Seamark – comprises a total of 25 part­ners, including univer­si­ties in Copen­hagen, Aarhus, and Ålborg, as well as Euro­pean Protein’s own R&D company, Fermen­ta­tion­ex­perts.

Euro­pean Protein and the Univer­sity of Copen­hagen have been working together since 2019, collecting data from blood samples, manure analyses, e-inspec­tions, and feed opti­mi­sa­tions from 30,000 sows on 36 farms before and after the intro­duc­tion of seaweed and rapseed protein in their farrowing feed. This means that an exten­sive health data­base is already in place, which can act as a good starting point for the Seamark project.

Dennis Sandris Nielsen, a professor in the Depart­ment of Food Science at the Univer­sity of Copen­hagen, calls the project a fantastic oppor­tu­nity to take a deeper dive into the subject, while post-doctoral student and veteri­nary surgeon Mari­anne Kaiser of Aarhus Univer­sity regards it as a unique chance.

“The health of sows is a topic that has a very low profile and is not given the priority it deserves, partic­u­larly when looking for solu­tions to piglet mortaility,” she says.

Legarth says: “We need to find out why sows can produce more with signif­i­cantly less feed and protein and, at the same time, promote animal health. It’s here that pig producers can really save money.” It is expected that the Seamark project will begin in the first half of 2023 and will run for around one year. So, the search is on for herds that match the needs of the study and are inter­ested in partic­i­pating.