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Optimizing Diets: A Multi-Objective Approach

In the realm of animal nutrition, the quest for optimal feed diets has become increasingly reliant on sophisticated software tools. These programs, known as nutrition formulation software, are indispensable for modern animal nutritionists seeking to strike a delicate balance between nutritional quality, industrial performance, environmental sustainability, and cost-effectiveness.



Gone are the days of manual calculations and guesswork in feed formulation. Today, nutritionists rely on powerful software equipped with algorithms capable of crunching vast amounts of data to generate optimized feed recipes. These programs take into account a myriad of factors, including the nutritional requirements of the target animal, ingredient availability, cost constraints, and even environmental considerations.



Challenges and Limitations


While formulation software has revolutionized the field of animal nutrition, it is not without its limitations. Traditional software primarily focuses on optimizing for cost, often overlooking other important factors such as animal health, performance, and environmental impact. Take, for example, the issue of Acid Buffering Capacity (ABC4) in piglet diets. Maintaining optimal stomach pH is crucial for digestive health and nutrient absorption. However, many nutritionists hesitate to set maximum ABC4 limits in their formulations due to concerns about cost escalation. This illustrates a key challenge faced by nutritionists – balancing the competing demands of cost, performance, and animal welfare.


Multi-Objective Optimization: A Paradigm Shift


Enter multi-objective optimization – a paradigm shift in feed formulation that promises to reconcile conflicting objectives and unlock new possibilities for nutritionists. The most advanced formulation software now incorporates multi-objective optimization algorithms. Unlike traditional software, which optimizes solely for cost, multi-objective optimization algorithms consider a broader range of criteria, allowing nutritionists to explore trade-offs and find solutions that strike the optimal balance between competing objectives.


Let us take the example of the Acid Buffering Capacity (ABC4) in piglet diets. The ABC4 level directly impacts the stomach pH, which, in turn, affects the effectiveness of digestive enzymes such as pepsin. Low stomach pH is essential for optimal pepsin activity and other endogenous and exogenous proteases, ensuring efficient protein digestion in young piglets. However, standard piglet diets are often high in Acid Buffering Capacity due to factors such as high protein levels, the use of calcium carbonate, and high levels of zinc oxide. It is not uncommon to find prestarters and starters diets with ABC4 levels around 450meq, whereas the optimal ABC4 level should not exceed 250 meq. Nutritionists are actively seeking solutions to reduce the ABC4 levels in diets from 450 down to 250 meq. Strategies for reducing ABC4 levels include varying protein sources, changing calcium sources, and reducing zinc oxide levels. However, achieving the desired ABC4 level while managing costs presents a significant challenge.


Advanced software now enables nutritionists to assess the impact of varying ABC4 levels on diet costs. By quantifying the cost sensitivity of ABC4, formulators can make informed decisions about trade-offs and determine the acceptable overcosts associated with optimizing these parameters.



We start by optimizing a standard diet through. In the example above, we are working on a piglet diet at a cost of 592.07 Euro with a ABC4 value of 463.70 meq.  We then decide to accept a 10% increase (called margin) on the price (limits 651.27 Euro) and ask to minimize the ABC4 level within that cost frame.


The table above is summarizing the conclusions. The column 1 is the standard diet and the column 2 is the optimized diet with a new cost 5.7% higher at 626.74 Euro with an improved ABC4 25% lower at 349.42 meq.


The simulation gets more interesting when we cumulate 2 nutrients. In the example below, I wanted to find the optimal balance between cost and the performance related to ABC4 and Fiber. I created a margin of 10% on price and 5% on ABC4 and ask for maximizing NDF level within that frame.

The results appear in the column 3 of the above table. The best balance between these 3 dimensions is a diet at a cost of 608.24 Euro, a slightly increased ABC4 of 366.89 meq but an increased NDF of 9.59%.


We had to accept an increase of ABC4 to gain some increase of NDF while staying below the 651.27 Euro of cost limit.


The software can even provide a graphic illustration to visualize the evolution of the nutrients against each other.

With the advent of multi-objective optimization algorithms, nutritionists can now navigate the trade-offs between cost, performance, and environmental sustainability with greater precision and insight.


By leveraging these advanced tools, nutritionists can develop feed diets that not only meet the nutritional needs of animals but also promote animal welfare, reduce production costs, and minimize environmental impact. As we continue to push the boundaries of innovation in animal nutrition, multi-objective optimization holds the promise of unlocking new frontiers in sustainable and ethical food production.



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