Lines of Research

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Livestock breeding

Improved Animal Genetics

The Animal Production Department originated largely from the launch of the conservation and genetic improvement programme for the Latxa and Carranzana breeds, native to the Basque Country and Navarre, at the start of the 1980s, although, since then, it has expanded its activity to other livestock species, such as beef and dairy cattle, mountain horses and bees. Thus, it has worked, from a technical approach, on proposing methodologies for performance control programmes, selection objectives of (mainly productive, but also quality, such as protein content, and functional, such as mammary morphology, easy calving or resistance to scrapie), until carrying out genetic evaluations. Currently, its work area is expanding towards genomics.
At the same time, it has studied the main reproductive aspects required to spread genetic improvements. It has also worked on fine tuning reproductive techniques for freezing sperm, artificial insemination, multiple ovulation and embryo transfer.
As a result, it works in close collaboration with farmers’ associations and the Aberekin and Ardiekin insemination centres.
International relations with the INRA-Toulouse and INIA-Madrid genetics teams.

Leader: Dra. Eva Ugarte Sagastizabal (eugarte@neiker.eus )
Working team:
- Dra. Ina Beltrán de Heredia Perez de Villarreal (ibeltran@neiker.eus )
- Josune Arranz Arriola (jarranz@neiker.eus ). Research Gate access
- Imanol Etxeberria
- Juan Carlos Otxoa de Zuazola

Animal feed and Nutrition

At the end of the 1980s, we started working on the study of the feed system for the Latxa and Carranzana breeds, in order to characterise it and learn about its implications, in particular through its effect on the evolution of body reserves. From there we carried out a number of trials aimed at its optimisation, both during the permanent confinement and grazing phases, and, therefore, at reducing costs. Initially, it was a matter of analysing the effect of supplementation with concentrate feed and its interactions with the quality and quantity of fodder. Subsequently, it was a matter of evaluating the behaviour and quantifying the ingestion of sheep managed by a part-time grazing system.
In addition, we worked on identifying additives for modulating the ruminal fermentation and evaluating different raw materials and/or by-products, as alternative sources of energy and protein that could contribute to reducing production costs or improving the efficiency and quality of the products obtained.
The team uses discontinuous and continuous in vitro techniques (Rusitec) for studying digestibility.
To carry out these projects, we have been collaborating with various agents from the agri-food sector in the Basque Country (farmers’ associations, feed factories, AZTI-Tecnalia, University of the Basque Country) and R&D centres nationally (University of León, University of Zaragoza, CIAM in Galicia, SERIDA in Asturias, CIFA in Cantabria, and INTIA in Navarre) and even international companies through projects under contract.

Leader: Dr. Aser García Rodriguez (aserg@neiker.eus ). Research Gate access

Working team:
- Dr. Raquel Atxaerandio (ratxaerandio@neiker.eus )
- Josune Arranz Arriola (jarranz@neiker.eus ). Research Gate acces
- Imanol Etxeberria
- Juan Carlos Otxoa de Zuazola

Animal production systems

The work done in this area since the mid-1990s has focused largely on the characterisation and analysis of different livestock-raising systems in the context of sustainability, therefore mainly covering technical and economic aspects, but also others of a social and environmental nature. So, we have analysed the interactions between the use of natural resources, nutritional practices and reproduction, on the main zootechnical, production parameters and even the quality of the products obtained in different livestock species (dairy sheep, beef and dairy cattle).
Moreover, at the time, we carried out the R&D required for the design and implementation of alternative production systems in the Basque Country, such as the production of red deer or open-air pigs.
In addition, we raised the value of the knowledge generated in different knowledge areas for the design of decision making support tools at different levels (the individual animal, the herd, the farm and even the region) based on simulation and optimisation models.
In recent years, we have been assessing the role of livestock systems with respect to the generation of different ecosystem services, as well as the perception that society has about the livestock-raising activity.
All of this has been possible thanks to close collaboration between the different work areas of the Neiker-Tecnalia Animal Production Department itself, as well as different actors in the agri-food sector in the Basque Country (farmers’ associations), R&D centres nationally (CITA in Aragon, University of Lleida, University of Zaragoza, CIFA in Cantabria) and internationally (University of Edinburgh, University of the State of Mexico, etc.) and companies like Daia Inteligent Solutions.

Leader: Dr. Roberto Ruiz Santos (rruiz@neiker.eus). Research Gate access

Working team:
- Dr. Nerea Mandaluniz (nmandaluniz@neiker.eus). Research Gate access
- Josune Arranz Arriola (jarranz@neiker.eus ). Research Gate access
- Imanol Etxeberria
- Juan Carlos Otxoa de Zuazola

Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare

In current animal production models, considering animal welfare is becoming increasingly necessary both for socio-economic reasons and in order to ensure the long-term sustainability of production models. In order to provide core support to the production sector, the research line on Applied Ethology and Animal Welfare was created in 2008, with a special emphasis on the field of poultry and sheep production.
The objectives of this research are based on two main pillars. Firstly, to generate core knowledge about the behaviour, social and spatial dynamics of production animals. This information is key to improving management practices and the design of facilities to optimise productivity and animal welfare. The second area covers more applied work, with the aim of solving specific problems that may occur in production systems within the behavioural or animal welfare scope. A successful example of basic research, which has resulted in long-term practical applications for the poultry industry, has been the development of simple environmental enrichment techniques for increased reproductive success in broiler breeder lines, or to reduce the incidence of FPD (foot pad dermatitis) in broilers. Moreover, the development of new technologies and a multidisciplinary approach has allowed the design of new applications for improving decision-making that lead to higher production efficiency and animal welfare. This approach has allowed the creation of the first mobile application (Android) to evaluate the health and welfare of broilers and turkeys in commercial systems effectively.
The research group has had extensive international experience, proven through participation in a number of international bodies, such as EFSA, WPSA, PSA and the ISAE and collaborations with research groups in Argentina, Brazil, USA, UK, Italy and Norway. Simultaneously, it has maintained close relationships with local companies, with which it collaborates regularly: Lumagorri, Euskaber, Huevos Gorrochategui, Grupo AN, Avialter, Aseprhu, Tecnalia and DAIA Inteligent Solutions.

Leader: Dr. Inmaculada Estevez Ovejas (Ikerbasque Research Professor)
( iestevez@neiker.eus ). Acceso a Research Gate

Equipo de trabajo:
- Dr. Xavier Averós (xaveros@neiker.eus ). Research Gate access
- Iurancha González Pozuelo