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.
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%.
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.
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
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.