Up & Coming Leader Sai Zhang Strives to Improve Sow Nutrition

( Provided by Sai Zhang )

Meet Sai Zhang, our latest addition to Farm Journal's PORK's Up & Coming Leaders feature. We are showcasing some of the fresh, new voices of the pork industry who combine innovative thought and work ethic with scientific savvy and a passion to make a difference. 

Age: 29
Hometown: Hunan, China
Education: Bachelor’s degree, Huazhong Agricultural University, China; master’s degree, China Agricultural University, China; currently pursuing Ph.D. in swine nutrition, Michigan State University

Q. What drew you in to pursue a career in the swine industry?
My grandma sparked my interest in animal science when I was a child. She raised chickens and ducks and planted various vegetables. My childhood is filled with memories of animals – we were obsessed. I chose my research career with swine because the swine industry is huge in China, and I can keep working with animals. My enthusiasm for animal science has just grown since childhood.

Q. Tell us about your internship experiences.
I have had a variety of internship experiences. My first internships were at the Academy of Agricultural Sciences commercial experimental swine farms in Hubei, China, learning how to run a swine farm and develop skills for vaccinating newborn piglets. When I came to the U.S., I interned with a Smithfield swine farm in Utah performing mammary biopsies on lactating sows.  

Q. Did you take part in other undergraduate research experiences?
At the Chinese Academy of Sciences, I assisted in screening and identifying drought-resistant mutants in Arabidopsis. I also had a research project at Huazhong Agriculture University assisting in the preparation of an E.Coli gene deleted vaccine on dairy cow mastitis.

Q. What other learning opportunities have you been involved in?
I am skilled at blood and tissue (e.g., mammary gland, small intestines) sampling on swine. I also have experience with sow ear vein catheterization, urinary catheterization and indirect calorimetry. 

Q. Tell us about your current research. 
I am evaluating the dietary effect of a near ideal amino acid (NIAA) profile and low protein concentration on the efficiency of nitrogen/AA and energy utilization for milk production in sows exposed to thermal neutral or heat stress conditions. I evaluated N, AA, and energy efficiency and N balance on sows fed conventional lactating diet without crystalline AA (CAA) and reduced protein diet with CAA added. Feed intake and urine, fecal output was recorded for N balance and milk was sampled for the calculation of dietary AA or energy efficiency for lactation. In addition, indirect calorimetry was performed to estimate sow total heat production fed diets with different protein levels and exposed to thermal neutral or cyclical heat stress environments. My research provides updated amino acid and energy efficiency for lactating sows fed a reduced protein diet and can be used to establish updated AA and energy requirements. My results also suggest a promising strategy of feeding a reduced protein diet to lactating sows to abate heat production and alleviate heat stress.

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