Even before they hatch, programmed nutrition can improve these chicks' ability to use feed efficiently (credit: Ontario Farm Animal Council photo library)

Farmers and farm animals are facing a brave, new world — brave, because agriculture is entrusted with feeding an increasingly hungry and growing globe. And new, because farming’s future looks as if it will be based on molecular biology as much as machinery and hard work.

As time goes on, farmers will remain tillers of the land. But the hi-tech approach they’ll take to feeding livestock — using an advanced understanding of genetics and what’s called programmed nutrition and feeding — will keep animals healthy. It will help livestock reach full potential, based on treatment they receive even before they’re born.

In some cases, 75 per cent of the nutrients normally recommended in animal feed can be cut back through programmed feeding. This involves highly specific feeding regimes, including diets fed to pregnant livestock to boost embryonic health, or additives that are able to get through an animal’s rumen and be absorbed later for maximum effectiveness.

I cover this new world, prompted by the 2011 Alltech North American Lecture Tour on now, in my Urban Cowboy column in the Guelph Mercury.