Nanbing Qin and his postdoc research on Progres® in dairy cows

One of the main strengths of Suomen Rehu is our unique research network, which offers a synergistic combination of skill sets in microbiology, animal physiology, gut health and animal production performance. By joining forces of top-qualified experts, we are able to develop Suomen Rehu’s innovative solutions.

In this blog Nanbing Qin, PoDoCo in Hankkija/University of Helsinki tells about his way to postdoctoral research on Progres® in transition cows (especially early lactation).

Nanbing Qin, postdoc in companies researcher in Hankkija Oy/University of Helsinki

Science creates sustainable and efficient agriculture

From a “city boy” to a researcher in agriculture

Born and growing up in Beijing, the capital city of China, I deserve to be called a pure “city boy”. However, the pure “city boy” is doing research on agriculture in Finland and taking it as the career. When I was in high school, I found my interest in biology. Driven by the interest, I processed my Bachelor’s and Master’s study in food science. My Master’s study at the University of Helsinki focused on meat technology.

Although I understood that the importance of processing and packaging for meat quality, I was thinking that what is more important might be how we feed the animals. Such thought was probably one of the reasons to make me start my doctoral study in animal nutrition and devote myself to agricultural research.

I always considered agriculture as activities largely relying on experience. However, with in-depth study, I realized that what is behind those experience is true science. And I believe that science will lead agriculture to be more efficient, profitable, and sustainable.

Doctoral thesis on the metabolic stress of dairy cows around calving

I did my doctoral study at the University of Helsinki 2014 - 2018. My research focused on the nutrition and metabolism of dairy cows around calving. The period from three weeks before calving to three weeks after calving is important for the health of cows, as the cows generally lose the energy balance and get stressed because of the burden from pregnancy and lactation.

Imagining you have a balanced financial status when you spend the amount of money that you have earned every month. The transition period is like the time when you have to spend more than what you have earned, for instance, when you are going to have a kid. You may get stressed because the income you have right now is not enough for raising the kid.

Fortunately, you have some saving in the bank and you can use it to get through this. The bank is comparable to the body reserves of nutrient in dairy cows (muscle, fat, glycogen…), which are mobilized during early lactation to support milk synthesis. However, severe mobilization of body reserves may increase the incidence of metabolic diseases. Subsequently, the impaired health status may interfere the milk production. In my doctoral thesis, I studied how we can feed the cow differently to improve their energy balance and health around calving. 

Possible strategies to improve energy balance and health of dairy cows around calving

To keep the financial balance, you can either increase your income or try to cut the expenditure. Likewise, it is very easy to imagine that we could probably either feed the cows more or try to decrease their demand for energy to keep their energy balance.

However, is the question that simple? In the research, we fed the cows 140% of the energy they actually need during the last six weeks before calving and we found this increased ceramide concentration in the adipose tissue, a widely accepted trigger of insulin resistance, which potentially induces metabolic disorders.

Therefore, increasing the energy intake of cows before calving may not be a successful strategy to improve the energy balance of cows. On the contrary, decreasing the energy demand of cows was proven to effectively improve the energy balance. In the research, we tried to decrease the milk fat content by supplement the cows with special fatty acids (e.g., conjugated linoleic acid). The energy requirement of cows decreased significantly when they needed less energy for milk fat synthesis. The supplement was found to improve energy balance and to lead to less body weight loss of cows during first 7 weeks of lactation.

Novel feed solution from Suomen Rehu (Hankkija) to improve the production and health of dairy cows

Currently, I am working as a postdoctoral researcher for Hankkija’s project on resin acid composition in ruminant feed.

Resin acids are components of rosin secreted by coniferous trees. Rosin has been found to be consumed by some wild herbivores, such as moose. Folk medicine in Nordic countries has also used rosin to heal infected wounds for centuries. In the past 20 years, the antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory effects of resin acids have been proven in scientific researches.

Now, Suomen Rehu is applying resin acids into animal feed as an ingredient, expecting similar benefits on domestic animals. So far, the success has been made in broiler chicken. The addition of resin acid-containing product Progres® in the feed has been found to improve growth rate and feed conversion rate of broiler chicken. In addition, Progres® has the potential to decrease the incidence of infectious diseases in chicken and thus guarantees production. The successful application of resin acid composition in the feed will provide an ideal alternative to in-feed antibiotics, especially when this renewable material can be gained from the sidestream of wood pulp manufacture.

My role in Suomen Rehu's (Hankkija) project is to study whether the in-feed resin acids also have similar beneficial effects on cows. In addition, I am going to study the effect of resin acid on the metabolism of cows during early lactation, as resin acid also has the potential to reduce the metabolic stress during early lactation.

I believe the research I am doing will contribute to the sustainability of agriculture and the development of a cleaner planet, like Suomen Rehu always does, using science to change agriculture.