October, 2023

The WAGS Word

Greetings and welcome to the final edition of the WAGS newsletter for 2023.

A better harvest than originally expected in some areas of western Canada and a good supply of US corn has helped to push grain prices down and feed with it. Nice to see the cost side of the equation moving downwards substantially. Certainly a highlight of Q3!

Other highlights for us were some very successful events including the Swine Opportunity Ingredients Webinar, the Swift Current warehouse opening in August and our customer appreciation day in Lethbridge in September. It was wonderful to catch up with so many of our customers at these events. We thank you for your business and for taking the time to visit with us, break bread, and listen to some educational presentations from the nutrition team.

WAGS is also welcoming a new addition to our team - Ruben Garzon Suarez who will be joining Ben and Mario on our poultry nutrition team. Ruben has years of experience in both monogastric nutrition and production management internationally. We are excited to have him join the team and looking forward to continuing to bring top-notch poultry nutrition consulting to producers across Western Canada and Montana.

As always, we wish the best to you and your families and hope you enjoy the articles our team has put together this quarter!

Commodity Price Update

Grain prices have declined as the western Canadian harvest progressed well and there remains a positive outlook expected for corn production globally. A massive corn crop is being exported from Brazil and the US ending stocks are forecasted to increase by more than 50% in the 2023-24 cycle.

The drought outlook in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan is a concern, but crop yields have been reported above earlier expectations in Alberta. Proteins have also declined, although the past week has seen a significant rise with some logistics and production challenges rearing their ugly head. Over the medium-term protein prices are expected to soften further due to the increased oilseed crush capacity in North America. However, it is possible we may already have hit the low for the next quarter.

Crude oil prices received support after Saudi Arabia and Russia extended additional supply cuts to the end of the year. A decline in the US inventories contributed to the bullish trend and the Brent is currently trading around the $90 USD level. The monetary policy decision in the US will be a key driver as we move forward.

The current USD/CAD forecast is bullish as investors find safety in the American dollar given the perspectives of persistently elevated interest rates by the US Federal Reserve. The Canadian manufacturing sector has also experienced its most significant decline in over 2 years. The Canadian dollar is currently trading around the 0.73 range against the US dollar, but it is receiving support from the strong crude oil prices.

Corn futures declined due to the new crop harvest in the US and could still face additional pressure amid rising world supplies. However, FX trends will be an important driver to define corn usage across Western Canada in the following months. Corn is currently providing value in Southern Alberta and Saskatchewan swine feed diets. Corn delivered to Red Deer, AB is being traded around $355-365 per MT, while prices in Saskatoon, SK are at around $340 per MT. The low water levels on the Mississippi River could also challenge grains shipments in the near term.

Wheat prices softened over the past weeks. Russia’s wheat exports have helped to fill the gap left by the shortfall from Ukraine. However, prices could find support on the overall good export quality crop in Canada, and as other important players could see crop losses due to adverse weather, such as Australia and Argentina. Delivered price indications in Red Deer, AB are at $335-345 per MT, while indications in the Saskatoon area range between $340 and $345 per MT. Following the same trend, barley delivery prices in Lethbridge, AB are at $340-345 per MT. Canadian barley carry-out stocks are projected at 0.55 MT, near the historical low set in 2021-22.

Soybean meal prices followed a downside trend over the past month with increased buildout of oilseed crush capacity in the US and competition from South America being the main drivers. However, the past week has led to dramatic increase in price with both futures and basis rising on the strength of delayed crush plant startups, tightening logistics and rumours of soybean purchases by China. Prices have climbed to around $750 per MT in Lethbridge, AB for November and December delivery. Canola meal climbed to around $420 per MT in the Saskatoon area. We expect that these represent highs in the protein market with the potential for softening from here. Crush in Canada is expected to rise to 10 MT, even with a production smaller than last year by 7%.

Given this background, it is likely grain prices across Western Canada have hit a bottom for the next quarter. Protein prices are currently high, but soymeal prices could see some pressure as harvest progresses in North America. Synthetic amino acids prices could follow the same trend but are currently receiving support from the currency level and as Chinese manufacturing costs are rising.

Feeding the Gestating Sow

Efficient pig production is vital for sustainability and competitiveness, especially as feed costs and environmental concerns rise. Pigs consume most of their feed during the grow-finish phase, and feed efficiency decreases with increasing weight due to higher maintenance requirements. To improve efficiency, various feed additives are used in the swine industry. These additives work through various mechanisms to boost growth performance. Antibacterial and immune-promoting additives like acidifiers, essential oils, probiotics, yeasts, copper, and zinc manage pathogens and maintain gut health. Others, like betaine, chromium, conjugated linoleic acid, and L-carnitine, boost energy and lipid metabolism, while exogenous enzymes improve nutrient digestion and support gut health and immunity. However, the effects of these additives on pig growth vary due to factors like pig stage, diet, and environment. This article aims to identify the most consistent feed additives for improving growth and carcass characteristics in grow-finish pigs.

Improving Health to Improve Growth Performance

Acidifiers, including organic acids like fumaric, citric, and malic acid, create an acidic environment in the pig's digestive tract (pH < 4.5) that inhibits acid-sensitive bacteria growth. This acidity also boosts protein and mineral digestibility by stimulating enzyme activity. Acidifiers enhance growth in pigs by improving gut health and digestion. Feeding grow–finish pigs a blend of formic, acetic, lactic, propionic, citric, and sorbic acids, and a combination of medium-chain fatty acids improved final BW by 3.4 kg (+3.6%), daily gain by 39 g/pig (+5.3%), and gain:feed (+30 g or 8.1%) of pigs (Rao et al., 2023). In another study, supplementing 0.3% benzoic acid to grow-finish pigs improved feed intake and average daily gain, but not feed efficiency (Humphrey et al., 2022).

Essential oils from plants like oregano and thyme contain phenols with antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal properties. Essential oil inhibits pathogens by disrupting the pathogen’s cell walls and membranes (Figure 1), similar to organic acids. The phenolic components also act as antioxidants. Essential oils may boost the pig's immune system by interacting with gut microbiota and altering lymphocyte distribution, improving pig growth. Feeding grow–finish pigs a combination (250 g/ton) of thyme, rosemary, oreganum extracts and kaolin covered by starch improved growth performance in grower pigs, and protein and energy digestibility in grower-finisher pigs (Yan et al., 2010). More research is needed to determine the effect of essential oils in grow–finish diets for pigs.

Probiotics like Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Bacillus sp., and Lactobacillus sp. balance gut microbiota, enhance nutrient absorption, and reduce pathogen effects by competitive exclusion and immune modulation (Figure 2). Yeast contains vitamin B, β-glucan, α-mannans, and microbial protein. Yeast cell wall extracts with β-glucan and α-mannans have prebiotic (food for “good” gut bacteria) effects, improving pig immune systems and gut health. Adding hydrolyzed yeast containing yeast culture and complex carbohydrates to the diet did not improve growth performance but reduced mortality by more than half (2.8% vs 7.5%) in PRRS-positive and ileitis-challenged pigs (Levesque et al., 2016).

Copper can promote pig growth by improving lipid digestion and metabolism and enhancing microbiota and gastrointestinal health. However, excessive copper intake can lead to toxicity. Copper additions of 125 to 400 mg/kg can potentially improve daily gain by 2.5% and feed efficiency by 1.8%. However, with carcass characteristics, copper effects are relatively small, with most research studies finding no evidence of improvement.

Improving Metabolism to Improve Growth Performance

Betaine is a compound found in plants and animals that plays a role in synthesizing various important substances like carnitine and creatine. Betaine supplementation has been shown to increase growth hormone and insulin-like growth factor 1 levels in pigs, improving protein synthesis and growth performance. It can also enhance energy utilization, increasing growth. Additionally, betaine can influence meat quality by regulating genes related to fatty acid uptake and oxidation in muscles, potentially reducing body fat percentage and altering pork pH, color, and water-holding capacity. Supplementing betaine in low-energy diets increased daily gain in growing (729 g vs 697 g) and finishing (828 g vs 809 g) pigs (Lipiński et al., 2012). Betaine decreased backfat by 5.5% and increased carcass leanness by 1% in pigs fed diets with an adequate energy level (Lipiński et al., 2012).

L-carnitine helps transport fatty acids for energy production and regulating key enzymes in energy metabolism. While pigs can produce it endogenously, dietary L-carnitine supplementation has been explored to improve performance and carcass qualities, especially in plant-based swine diets where L-carnitine levels may be insufficient due to low concentrations in typical feed ingredients like corn and soybean. Grow-finish diets supplemented with 250 mg L-carnitine/kg reduced backfat, while increasing muscle percentage. For ADG and G:F, pigs fed diets with added L-carnitine had a 2.1% and 2.5% increase (Rao et al., 2023), respectively.

Conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) can influence lipid metabolism by inhibiting glucose uptake into fat cells and enhancing factors and enzymes related to fatty acid breakdown. This reduces fat synthesis and promotes fat breakdown through beta-oxidation. CLA may enhance growth performance by regulating energy metabolism and improving carcass composition by reducing fat and increasing lean tissue. A 2.1% and 3.5% improvement in daily gain and feed efficiency, respectively, was observed in pigs fed added CLA, along with an average 7.0% reduction in back fat and a 2.6% increase in lean percentage (Rao et al., 2023).

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Figure 1. Potential mechanism of action of essential oils on bacteria (adapted from Ramos da Silva et al., 2021)

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Figure 2. Probiotic mechanisms of action against pathogens in the gastrointestinal tract

Chromium influences enzymes and hormones that regulate energy metabolism, protein deposition, and fat accumulation. Its primary mechanism involves enhancing insulin's action, improving glucose utilization in cells, and increasing the uptake of glucose and amino acids in muscle cells. This can boost lean muscle growth and reduce fat deposition, leading to improvements in feed efficiency and carcass characteristics in grow-finish pigs. Pigs fed diets with 200 to 500 μg/kg added chromium had an average of a 1.1% daily gain improvement, and a 1.0% feed efficiency increase (Sales and Jančík, 2011). In addition, several experiments have shown that added chromium decreased back fat by 3.9% on average, while percentage lean was improved by 1.6% (Rao et al., 2023)

Improving Nutrient Utilization to Improve Growth Performance

Enzymes are added to diets because pigs lack the enzymes needed to digest feed components like fibre and phytate. Carbohydrases such as xylanase, glucanase, and mannanase break down non-starch polysaccharides in plant-based ingredients, releasing nutrients and promoting gut health. Proteases help digest dietary protein, improving utilization and reducing excess protein in manure. Phytase primarily targets phytate, reducing the antinutritional effect of phytate and improving the digestibility of phosphorus and other substances like calcium, amino acids and energy. Often, different enzymes are blended to combine their benefits due to their varying mechanisms.

Supplementing a low- or high-density corn and soybean meal-based diet with 125 g/t of an alkaline protease significantly increased daily gain and feed efficiency in grow-finish pigs. Pigs fed diets with added carbohydrases had an average of a 1.3% daily gain improvement, while feed efficiency was improved by 1.7% (Nguyen et al., 2019). Supplementing single or a carbohydrases cocktail in low-nutrient-density diets fed to grow–finish pigs significantly improved dry matter, nitrogen and energy digestibility (Wang et al., 2009). In another study, supplementing a finisher diet containing 5% palm kernel meal with 0.1 or 0.2% of a carbohydrase cocktail improved daily gain and feed efficiency through energy and nutrient digestibility optimization (Ao et al., 2011).

In conclusion, efficient pig production is essential for the sustainability and competitiveness of the swine industry, particularly in the face of rising feed costs and environmental concerns. The grow-finish phase is critical, and improving growth performance and carcass characteristics during this stage is of great importance. Feed additives have been explored to enhance these aspects through health, metabolism and nutrient utilization enhancement. While the effectiveness of these additives may vary based on factors like pig age, diet composition, and environmental conditions, they collectively contribute to a more efficient pig production. However, the decision to use feed additives requires a thorough assessment of production, identification of challenges, and potential return on investments. Your nutritionist can help you to evaluate the efficacy and cost effectiveness of feed additives for your operation.

Note: References available upon request.

Role of calcium and phosphorus in poultry nutrition

All animals contain different amounts of minerals in their tissues. Multiple studies demonstrated that minerals are essential for animals to develop and maintain a healthy status (Suttle,2010). The main source of minerals is the diet and therefore minerals are supplemented through the feed.

Minerals are classified according to the inclusion rate in the diet. Macro-minerals are required by the birds in large amounts, milligrams or grams per day and the concentration in the diet is expressed as a percentage. Calcium, phosphorus, sodium, potassium, magnesium, and chloride are classified as macro-minerals. Microminerals are also known as trace minerals and they are required in much smaller amounts, in micrograms or less per day. Copper, Iodine, Iron, Manganese, Selenium and Zinc are examples of trace minerals supplemented in commercial poultry diets (Korver, 2023).

In animals, minerals are required for structural, physiological, catalytic, and regulatory functions. This means they are structural components of organs and tissues, are involved in chemical reactions to keep the chemical balance of the fluids in the body, accelerate chemical and hormonal reactions, are required for the activation of enzymes and are involved in the regulation of cell replication and differentiation. Therefore, providing adequate mineral supplementation to livestock is essential and mineral deficiency may compromise the performance and health status of the flocks (Suttle, 2010).

Calcium: It is the most abundant mineral in the body, 99% of the calcium is found in the skeleton, which supports the muscles, protects organs and tissues and participate in keeping the right levels of calcium in the blood by releasing and absorbing calcium as needed. The calcium that is not in the skeleton is present in the blood stream and in different cells in the body, it is essential for eggshell formation, conduction of nerve impulses, muscle contraction, cell signaling, blood clotting and modulation of the immune response. The absorption of calcium occurs in the small intestine. It is controlled by a thyroid hormone and the active form of vitamin D3 (Suttle, 2010). When feeding calcium to laying hens, the particle size of the calcium source plays an important role. A combination of a large and fine source of calcium is ideal, the larger particles of calcium are released more slowly, providing a steady supply of calcium for the eggshell formation during the dark periods of light when the birds are reluctant to eat (Leeson and Summers, 2009).

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Figure 3. Coarse and fine limestone (sdapted from www.kernowmodelrailcentre.com and www.greenmarcgardens.ca)

Calcium disorders can be caused by chronic deprivation or metabolic deprivation. The chronic deprivation results as failure to meet dietary requirements over a long period of time and the second is the result of a rapidly metabolic increase in calcium demand (Suttle, 2010).

The most common signs of calcium disorders in poultry are:
- Poor growth and survival.
- Abnormality of bone development, such as rickets, fracture of bone, osteomalacia, osteoporosis and tibial dyschondroplasia.
- Reduction in egg production and quality.

Phosphorus: this is the second most abundant mineral in the animal body, 80% is found in the bones. The most important function of this mineral is the formation and maintenance of the bones. The remaining 20% of the phosphorus is found in fluids and soft tissues. Phosphorus is a key component of DNA and RNA, which contains the genetic information of all living creatures and plays an important role in cell growth and differentiation. Phosphorus contributes to the fluidity and integrity of the cell membrane. In the nerve system it is a component of myelin, the insulation layer that allows the proper transmission of the nerve impulse. It participates in the acid-base and the osmotic balance and is a component of the ultimate source of energy for the cells (Suttle, 2010).

The absorption of phosphorus occurs in the small intestine. It is mainly driven by concentration gradient between the intestine and the blood stream (Suttle, 2010).

Phosphorus is present in grains as Phytate, also known as phytic acid or inositol hexaphosphate. When phosphorus is linked to this complex it cannot be absorbed by poultry. Poultry species can produce limited amounts of phytase. Phytase is an enzyme that cleaves the phytate liberating the phosphorus and making it available. Exogenous phytase can be supplemented to enhance the utilization of phosphorus coming from plants in the form of phytic acid uttle, 2010).

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Figure 4. Chemical structure of a phytate molecule (adapted from www.ymdb.ca)

Signs of phosphorus deficiency are in most cases the same as those described for calcium. Other signs include loss of appetite and reproductive alterations (Suttle, 2010).

Understanding the calcium and phosphorus requirements for poultry in the different production stages is essential for a proper nutrition, knowing the phosphorus and calcium content of the different feed ingredients and its availability is important for the proper formulation of the feed and the combination of these two aspects results in the optimum feed for best performance.

Note: References available upon request.

Blue tongue disease: an exotic ruminant disease that may occur in the summer

Total Mixed Ration (TMR) and Partial Mixed Ration (PMR) are two feeding systems used in dairy farming to provide nutrition mainly to lactating cows. The particle size of these rations plays a crucial role in digestion, milk production, milk components and cow’s health. The optimal particle size may vary slightly depending on specific farm conditions, cow breed, production targets and management practices, but here's a general guideline in both TMR and PMR preparations (1).

TMR. Dairy cows have been fed TMRs in the last few decades, but still, a daily pattern of feed intake results in over a 3-fold change in the rate of fermentable substrate entering the rumen over the day (2). With TMR, all feed components (staple feed, concentrated feed and mineral/premix) are mixed and fed to cows as a whole mix. However, having a single TMR for all milking cows in a herd is not easy because cows within a herd or group differ in their nutrient needs. Top-dressing a grain or supplement may be feasible and advantageous in some situations such as tie-stalls, robotic feeding, and groups on smaller herds; mixing a single batch of TMR. Still, the optimal timing of the supplementation would be difficult when it comes to maintaining both quality and quantity. With regard to the amount of concentrated feed, several groups of ingredients should be subdivided in order to avoid over- or under-supply.

Most physiological processes follow a circadian rhythm due to the light-dark cycles (day light) and other environmental changes including temperature, feed availability and moisture level (3). Plasma cortisol, growth hormone, insulin, non-esterified fatty acids (NEFA), blood urea nitrogen (BUN), locomotor activity, and body temperature have been reported to follow a circadian rhythm in the dairy cow (4) and affect feed intake of cows (2).

Generally, in TMR feeding system (or even in other feeding systems), feed intake would be lower during the night because cows have a tendency to rest. Feed intake would be increased after fresh feed delivery in the morning and be kept higher during the day and in the afternoon and early evening (5). Rumen digesta (content) composition is influenced by this daily eating pattern. Furthermore, ruminal starch pool is found to be lowest in the morning because of low intake during the night and the high rate of starch digestion (fermentation of starch). Additionally, a lower ruminal amylolytic capacity before feeding in the morning compared with after feeding has been reported. This knowledge is useful in designing and deciding a good feeding system for a dairy farm (1,6,7).

PMR. PMR idea came into practice mainly in robotic milking parlour dairy farms. In the case of PMR, the ration on the feed alley ideally may contain all basic staple components, mineral feed and a proportion of concentrated feed for a herd-specific milk production value. This is designed for the respective performance potential of the herd. The remaining concentrated feed (preferably a pellet feed composed of starch, protein and a little sugar) is allocated to each animal individually depending on its current level of performance (milk production), through transponder-controlled concentrated feed station or robotic feeding system (6).

System comparison
The main requirement for the smooth operation of both methods is the availability of several feed components to compensate for the staple feed ration and to cover a targeted milk production goal. It is important to ensure that the ration is mixed homogeneously. Only then can the selection of individual feed components be counteracted (avoid sorting) at the feed alley (1,7).

From a nutritional point of view, TMR represents an optimal form of feeding. Provided there are several performance groups with different rations for the respective performance requirements. This requires a certain size of herd. If these conditions are fulfilled, TMR offers some advantages. In the rumen, a possible synchronous fermentation is achieved. Simultaneous fermentation of feed components from energy and protein has a positive effect on animal health and milk yield. There are fewer pH fluctuations in the rumen. This leads to a lower risk of acidosis or sub-acute ruminal acidosis (SARA, 7).

PMR, on the other hand, presents a constant risk of acidosis in animals that receive higher amounts of concentrated feed via the transponder due to violent or risky pH fluctuations. The individual concentrated feed portions should be distributed over several small portions in order to prevent such risk.

Another advantage of TMR is that homogeneous mixing counteracts any selection of individual feed components. There is also the option of using low-cost regional by-products. From the point of view of economical farm management, the reduced workload and time saving are further advantages of TMR. Likewise, the cost of a transponder-controlled concentrated feed station or similar can be saved.

There are disadvantages to the TMR system. TMR limits the accommodation of many different cow groups within a herd. Keeping at least two, but preferably three performance groups is a condition for TMR to make sense from a physiological point of view. This creates difficulties for smaller populations. In the case of PMR, concentrated feed can be allocated to individual animals, and this is also ideally suited for smaller farms. If TMR feeding is used when only one performance group is kept, deficiencies in cows at the beginning of lactation are not uncommon, along with the associated metabolic problems such as ketosis.

Furthermore, the risk of fatty degeneration in animals increases at the end of lactation. These animals then often cause problems in feeding groups, start lactating poorly, and begin a vicious circle that can lead to further negative consequences such as fertility or reproduction problems. Other possible problems that occur with both TMR and PMR may arise when mixing the individual feed components. For example, mixing components for too long can lead to a structural deficiency of the ration. The feed is literally mixed into “mush”. This in turn increases the risk of acidosis in the population.

Particle size requirement of main feed ingredients in both TMR and PMR are described below. TMR may contain forage, grains and premix. The forage portion of TMR should ideally have a particle size distribution of 2 to 3 cm in length, which promotes effective rumination and cud chewing. Grain components, such as corn or barley, should be processed to a relatively medium or smaller particle size. Grinding or rolling grains to between 4 and 6 mm is common to improve digestibility. There may have a petted form of feed included in TMR. The textured or pelleted feed is mainly made up with gain and protein components. There may be different sizes and shapes in the textured feed category.

PMR typically consists of separate components that cows can choose to consume at their discretion. The particle size may vary depending on the specific component. The forage portion in a PMR should still have a length of 2 to 3 cm to promote effective rumination. Concentrates: Grain concentrates can be processed to a relatively bigger particle size, than in TMR, to avoid the risk of acidosis (8).

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Table 1: Recommendations for TMR and PMR particle distribution when Penn State particle separator is used. Adapted from Humer et al 2017 (1,7).

It's essential to monitor and adjust the particle size based on the specific requirements of the cows in your herd. Factors such as the age, breed, and health of the cows, as well as the quality and type of forage used, should be considered. Additionally, monitoring cow behavior, cud chewing, and manure consistency can help determine whether the particle size is suitable and if adjustments are needed (1,7).

Note: References available upon request.


Congratulations to the following WAGS partners who earned various awards.

Blue Ridge Colony – 1st place, carcass quality competition, Lethbridge livestock show.
Starbrite Colony - 1st in Index, Maple Leaf Awards , 3rd in Signature, Maple Leaf Awards
Kingsland Colony – 3rd, Meat Quality, Maple Leaf Awards
Big Bend Colony – 1st, Meat Quality, Maple Leaf Awards

Hams Marketing September Top 10 list

1st Hillridge Farming Co.
2nd Wymark Farming Co.
6th Vanguard Farming Company Ltd.
7th Rose Valley Farming co. Ltd.

2nd Vanguard Farming Co. Ltd.
3rd Sovereign Farming Company
4th Sand Lace Farming Co. Ltd.
5th Garden Plane Farming Co.
8th Hillridge Farming Co.


Lean Percent target
2nd Wymark Farming Co. Ltd.
3rd Vanguard Farming Co. Ltd.
5th Bench Farming Company
8th Garden Plane Farming Company
Loin Depth Target
1st Sovereign Farming Co.
5th New Dale Hutterian Brethren

% in Core Area
1st Hillridge Farming Co.
8th Wymark Farming Co. Ltd.
10th Garden Plane Farming Co.

Carcass Wt. Target
1st Hillridge Farming Co.
4th Wymark Farming Co. Ltd.
6th New Dale Hutterian Brethren
9th Raley Colony Ltd.


Jake Adams– Sales, Montana
David Borsboom – Sales Manager
Harry Korthuis – Sales Manager
Darcy MacDonald – Sales Manager
Doug Richards – Sales Manager
Tony Rock – Sales Manager
Gordon Van Dasselaar – Sales Manager
Denni Van Dasselaar-Sales Manager
C Ann Cornell – Office Coordinator, Great Falls, Montana
Anne Dyck - Office Assistant, Lethbridge, Alberta

Hailey Moors – Office Manager, Lethbridge, Alberta
Darlene Thorburn – Office Coordinator, Swift Current, Saskatchewan
Saman Abeysekara – Ruminant Nutritionist
Ruben Garzon – Poultry Nutritionist
Benjamin Londono – Poultry Nutritionist
Mario Rebolledo – Poultry Nutritionist
Joaquin Sanchez – Swine Nutritionist
Danilo Sotto – Swine Nutritionist
Tom Dowler – General Manager