Various approaches and frameworks
are used. Scientists combine experiments on animals, use of databases (especially for integrative biology or for meta-analyses), modelling (of a function, a farming system, or an evaluation), system experiments, or follow-up of commercial farms (organic farms as well as conventional ones). To design innovative sustainable agroecosystems, the Herbivore Research Unit explores
- Agroecology, to integrate natural processes in the design of productive and balanced systems,
- Precision livestock farming to closely manage farms and avoid wastes,
- Private-public partnerships to foster innovation.
The Herbivore Research Unit is divided into 5 research teams and three of them are concerned by the project. Team DINAMIC – Feed, Digestion, Microbes, Metabolism, Nutrition The aim of DINAMIC is to understand the intake, and digestive (including microbial) and metabolic mechanisms allowing to monitor nutrition of ruminants considering several dimensions: efficiency of feed utilisation, environmental services/disservices (including limitation of enteric methane emissions and nitrogen wastes), but also digestive comfort, and quality of products. DINAMIC contributes to the design of ruminants feeding systems based on non-human-edible resources. This involves the following lines of research:
- Characterisation of ruminant feeds (including new resources) and diets (including mixed diets), and development of prediction methods, to assess the dimensions listed above;
- Quantification of intake, digestive and metabolic fluxes of nutrients to understand and predict the responses of digestion and metabolism to variations of intake and diet composition, and to develop indicators of digestive and metabolic functions;
- Characterisation of the digestive microbial ecosystem and its interactions with the diet and the host, to understand and control the metabolism of the holobiont (i.e. microbiota & host as an entity).
DINAMIC conducts studies on the biochemistry of feeds (including bioactive secondary compounds) and their utilisation by the animal through in vivo approaches: quantification of intake, digestive and metabolic fluxes of nutrients (including N) and gas (including enteric methane), but also through alternative approaches, including in vitro fermentation and in situ degradation. Analytical predictive methods of feed composition and nutritive value using near infrared spectroscopy (NIRS) are used. The digestive microbial ecosystem, including its interactions with the host, is characterised through molecular and genomic approaches. Isotopomics and metabolomics approaches help to highlight indicators of digestive and metabolic efficiency. Empirical modelling and meta-analysis supports the integration of knowledge and contributes to the evolution of feed evaluation systems and feed tables. Disciplines: Ruminant nutrition; Physiology; Microbiology Technical skills: Animal experimentation; Biomarkers, Modelling Team CARAIBE – Animal Behaviour, Robustness, and Integrated Approach of Welfare CARAIBE objectives are:
- To characterize the psychobiological responses of animals to challenges (social, nutritional, or physical challenges, and stressful or painful situations),
- To identify the behavioural needs and behavioural mechanisms underlying adaptation to challenges (learning and developmental processes, identification of sensitive periods, epigenetic, genotype-environment interactions…),
- To contribute to integrative management of animal welfare and health by: the identification of early signs of health disorders through behavioural changes, allowing rapid treatment; the design of environmental conditions that stimulate animal robustness (social environment, enrichment, absence of stress); taking benefit of animal behaviour to fight against health disorders.
The ultimate goal is to propose practices that promote animal robustness, welfare and health, while ensuring technical performances and products quality. Team CARAIBE focuses on the understanding of psychological needs, perceptions (emotion and cognition), and behavioural responses of animals to their environment. It notably pays attention to constrained environments related to grass-based systems valuing grazing (climatic, feeding, social, predation constraints, etc.). The research is based on analyses of: animal behaviour (spontaneous behaviour or in reactivity and learning tests), stress responses (activity of the HPA axis and of the autonomic nervous system, post-mortem muscle metabolism, etc.) indicators of inflammation or pain. These psychobiological responses are related to animal performance and to products quality. Disciplines: Ethology; Animal welfare; Animal health; Stress physiology Technical skills: Behavioural observation; Stress biomarkers; Electrophysiology; Animal experimentation; Field surveys Team PERAQ – Farming practices, Robustness, Adaptation and products Quality PERAQ objectives are:
- To phenotype and quantify the adaptive responses of animals when experiencing changing and limiting environments during their production cycle and over their lifetime, with a focus on nutritional challenges. Researches focuses on priorities between productive (lactation, reproduction, growth and survival) and non-productive (maintenance) functions and on characterizing trajectories of trade-offs between life functions over lifetime.PERAQ identifies productive, physiological, and metabolic indicators with a view to characterize the overall robustness of the animal. Such an assessment is to be used for phenotyping animals for selection purposes, and for improving farming practices.
- To study how the diversity of individuals within a herd contributes to maintain the performances and the robustness of the herd when facing disturbances of diverse natures, intensities and durations. The ultimate goal is to identify, determine and elaborate farming practices that can increase animal and herd robustness.
- To analyze, predict and evaluate the effects of farming practices and their combination or organization in time on the performance of animals and herds, and the overall quality of their products. PERAQtakes into account the interactions between genetics and technological processes. The overall quality of products is addressed by combining nutritional, sensorial, technological and sanitary aspects of milk and dairy products, carcass and meat, at animal and herd levels. The ultimate goal is to authenticate the conditions of production and to develop indicators and innovative tools for the prediction of product qualities.
The analytical methods developed within PERAQ are measurements of metabolic and hormonal patterns of animals (biochemistry, RIA), use of spectral methods (NIRS) and image analyses (echography), and determination of lipid composition of ruminant products. PERAQ also drives large data sets analyses (multivariate analyses and meta-analyses) and farm surveys to get new information on the studied topics. The investigations are conducted in short-term analytical experiments to study the physiological and metabolic responses of animals, long-term experiments to study animal adaptation throughout its lifespan, surveys to characterize farming practices and herd performances, and modelling to predict the responses of animals and herds. The evaluation of the overall product quality relies on participative and multicriterion approaches.