Owen RobertsWhen it comes to nutrition, it’s safe to say modern farmers are diet conscious about their animals.

Farm animals have a whole industry looking after their best interests. Professionals such as animal nutritionists make sure livestock don’t make bad nutrition decisions. How many humans can say the same?

Granted, that option’s mostly taken away from farm animals through production agriculture, with prescribed diets. But where else on earth is a collection of species – beef and dairy cattle, chickens and pigs, among them — so closely observed and cared for?

Humans’ poor nutritional choices are driving some of the significant advances in animal nutrition that have taken place as a result of research at the University of Guelph and elsewhere.  We are a world of animal protein eaters, and there are more of us all the time.  Along with eating animal protein, we unfortunately also eat to excess and overly indulge our cravings for fat, salt and sugar. That leaves us vulnerable to nutritional shortcomings and disease.

That vulnerability has helped usher in a new age of animal nutrition — distinguished by research that makes humans, as well as animals, the best they can be.

In Canada, Guelph is the overwhelming leader in this field. Almost every senior nutritionist at every major animal feed company here is an animal nutrition graduate from the University of Guelph.  That’s a result of the training they receive from one of the world’s most concentrated core of animal nutrition scientists and associated faculty, as well as from support from the animal feed industry and from the partnership with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Food and the Ministry of Rural Affairs.

Guelph faculty members ushered in change. They saw how nutrition must go hand in hand with other animal health matters – housing, welfare, behaviour and disease prevention, among others – to make an animal top of the line.

For example, Guelph researchers have led the way in figuring out the essential role of vitamin E and selenium in superior muscle development and health in livestock.

They broke ground internationally by discovering how to incorporate omega 3 fatty acids into eggs and into cow’s milk, which led to enriched eggs and to the popular Dairy Oh! line of milk products.

They are leading the world in finding ways to develop what’s called co-products – such as the left-over protein and minerals from grain used as a feedstock to create ethanol – for sustainable animal feed, so traditional staples such as corn and soybeans can be used to feed humans instead.

They are regularly called on to help balance the nutritional needs of exotic animals in captivity.

They find new and nasty levels of mycotoxins that are increasingly prevalent in feed stocks as climate changes.

And they’ve turned heads by observing how cancerous tumours shrink when lab animals were fed selenium-enriched feed. Could the same thing happen in humans if they drank milk from cows fed beneficial levels of selenium?

They also work with the pet food and aquaculture industries to help develop scientifically sound diets. Where does the basic science in the diet come from? The University of Guelph.

The new direction and interest in enhanced food has animal nutritionists all fired up. Last week, 185 members of the Animal Nutrition Association of Canada came together at the University of Guelph for the 50th annual animal nutrition conference – which coincides with the university’s 50th anniversary.

Says Guelph graduate and conference chair Kathleen Shore, ruminant nutritionist for New-Life Mills in Cambridge: “Things have changed and the public sees how animal nutrition affects them too. It’s really energized the profession.

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