Animal Husbandry

In this applied scientific research, ILVO focuses on sustainable cattle, pig, poultry and rabbit husbandry. Our first focus is nutritional physiology research to match the nutrient supply as closely as possible to the animal’s needs. Closely related research studies how to minimise the excretion of nutrients into the environment. Our functional nutrition research focuses not only on improving the health of the animal, but also strives to improve the nutritional value of the end-product. We specialise in animal welfare research and also study housing, stall equipment, management and automation.

Animal trials consistent with ethics code

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MONICOW - Monitoring van de melkkoe

Intensive livestock farming and the health of local residents

ILVO has conducted a study on the subject of whether intensive farms affect the health of the farm’s neighbors. The study was done on behalf of the Province of West Flanders, which has many intensive livestock farms. As a licensing authority, the province must be able to work with the most recent and reliable data from science. Recently, the West-Flemish Environmental Federation (WMF) brought an anthology of possible links between livestock and human health. A Dutch study (VGO) from 2016 shows that, in addition to positive effects, infections of the lower respiratory tract and pneumonias are also more predicted by local residents of poultry and goat farms. That was a reason for the province to request a scholarly review.

Study 'intensive animal husbandry and the health of local residents'.


CattleILVO studies how dairy and beef cattle husbandry can be (more) profitable. How does the farmer meet the increasing quality demands for milk and meat? And how can the farmer simultaneously meet society’s expectations for environment and animal welfare? Our main research topics are nutrient requirements, feed evaluation, feed intake and efficiency, reduction of nutrient excretions and emissions into the environment, quality of milk and meat, and the valorization of by-products and feed crops produced on-farm.

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PigsAt ILVO’s experimental farm we study how pig husbandry (fattening pigs and sows) can become (more) livable. How can the pig sector meet the increasing quality demands for pork? How should they meet society’s expectations for the environment and animal welfare? Important research topics are nutrient requirements, nutrient losses to the environment, determination of meat quality, castration and boar taint, feed and management for optimal health of piglets and fattening pigs, and efficiency of feed additives.

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Small Livestock

Small animalsOn ILVO’s experimental farm, we study which factors lead to (improved) quality of the end-products from poultry and rabbits. We perform trials to study housing, animal welfare, infection pressure, feed trials and efficiency, and the development of feed additives. We also study nutrient requirements and losses into the environment, in addition to the quality aspects of eggs and meat.

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Feed Evaluation and Preservation

Feed qualityILVO studies the nutritional value of roughages, concentrates, raw materials, by-products and also the effect of additives for cattle, pigs and small animals. In addition to determining digestibility, energy , protein and structural value with experimental animals, we develop lab tests and in vitro trials for fast and low-cost evaluation of feed in practice. ILVO develops analysis methods to detect unwanted components in feed, such as (myco)toxins, and veterinary medicines. We also study whether these components are carried over into the animal end-product. Finally, attention is paid to the physical characteristics of feeds such as texture, pellet quality and also to treatments for rendering feeds more degradable.

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Animal Welfare

Animal welfareILVO animal welfare researchers develop and validate indicators and practical measurement procedures to determine general and specific welfare problems. The effect of nutrition, management, housing environment and equipment on the behaviour and welfare of farm animals is studied. Remedial measures are developed and tested. ILVO also proposes integrated welfare indices.

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Farm Buildings and Equipment

Farm buildings and equipmentILVO develops new stall concepts and technologies adapted to the needs of the animal and the farmer. The most important research topics are agricultural architecture and integration, ventilation and air treatments, low-emission systems, energy-saving techniques, and techniques for recuperating energy.

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cowILVO researches how production processes in animal husbandry can be optimised through new labour methodologies, techniques and automation. We do this to save labour, achieve better zootechnical results, healthier animals and higher quality of the end-products (meat, milk, eggs).

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Detection of zoonotic pathogensZoonoses are pathogens that can be transferred from animals to humans, such as Salmonella, Campylobacter, E. coli O157, MRSA. This contamination can happen via food or contact with animals. In this research, we study the detection of the zoonotic pathogens and their characterization (e.g. population structure, virulence, behavior in the host) on the farm. We also study control techniques during primary production on-farm.

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ILVO researches stress hormones as one way of testing chronic stress in farm animals. To do so, we study glucocorticoids such as cortisol and its metabolites as well as classical, non-specific stress hormones. The main goal of this research is to detect cortisol in various matrices such as hair. This can serve as a bio-marker for chronic stress, mostly in farm animals. Our aim is to develop and validate an analytical method. This research uses mainly chromatographic as well as immunochemical methods.

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