Enhance Animal Well-Being throughout the Food Production Cycle
Society has become increasingly aware of animal production, processing, and related issues. Over the centuries, farmers have cared for their animals on an individual basis. Now, animals are cared for more on a flock or herd basis. Food animal production is now valued at about $100 billion annually.
Some management practices appear inhumane to those who do not farm, are expensive, and cause a certain level of stress and pain to animals, but are generally conducted for valid animal health or personal safety considerations. These practices are being questioned by society, and conflicting views are being addressed. By examining these issues we may gain important insight into the physiological and other needs of animals that in turn may improve their lives and optimize their productive capacity. These advances may assist farmers to remain in business.
Animal well being issues are evolving to a level which may result in legislative or regulatory solutions to scientific questions. Other countries such as those in Europe and Scandinavia have proceeded with animal care regulations and standards that have had a tremendous impact on agriculture and society. Through international trade agreements, decisions made in these countries can directly affect USA industries and society.
Multi-state research committees have a long history of addressing current and future management issues through extensive cooperative efforts. The Agricultural Research Service (ARS), United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Cooperative State Research, Education, and Extension Service (CSREES/USDA) scientists are members of multi-state research committees organized by the Land Grant University (LGU) system and CSREES. These committees are essential mechanisms for LGU to create networking and collaborative research opportunities, thus reducing duplication of efforts. ARS, CSREES and LGU scientists participate in the North Central Region (NCR) 131, Animal Care and Behavior; Western Region (W) 173, Stress Factors of Farm Animals and their Effects on Performance; and Western Coordinating Committee (WCC) 204, Animal Bioethics committees. The 173 and 131 multi-state research projects often hold their annual meeting concurrently.
The ARS conducts research on animal well-being and stress under National Program 105 (NP105), “Animal well-being and stress control systems” (http://nps.ars.usda.gov/programs/105s2.htm). Research programs within NP105 fall within six components: 1. Scientific measures of well-being and stress; 2. Adaptation and adaptedness; 3. Social behavior and spacing; 4. Cognition and motivation; 5. Practices and systems to improve care and well-being; and, 6. Bioenergetic criteria for environmental management. Research units affiliated with NP105 are: Animal Physiology Research Unit, Columbia, MO; Biological Engineering Research Unit, Clay Center, NE; Livestock Behavior Research Unit, West Lafayette, IN; Livestock Issues Research Unit, Lubbock, TX; and the Poultry Research Unit, Mississippi State, MS. These units focus on multi-disciplinary research integrating measures of behavior, physiology and production efficiency that will contribute to balanced scientific knowledge on each of these categories.
The Food Animal Integrated Research (FAIR) 2002, was organized by FASS (Federation of Animal Science Societies) and the Animal Agriculture Coalition to identify research priorities to meet their goals, and to provide products for effective extension programs. Goal 6 of the FAIR 2002 report was to: Promote Animal Well-Being, to Enhance Animal Well-Being throughout the Food Production Cycle. Objectives under this goal are: 1. Develop better scientific measures to assess animal well-being, including pain, stress, and behavioral needs; 2. Determine the impact of current and alternative production systems on animal well-being and food quality, including handling, transportation, and slaughter; and, 3. Explore ethical issues in animal production and research. ARS National Program 105, Animal Well-Being and Stress Control Systems, CSREES’s multi-state research projects, and CSREES’s National Research Initiative each address objectives 1 and 2 of goal 6.
Objective 1: Develop Better Scientific Measures to Assess Animal Well-Being, including Pain, Stress and Behavioral Needs
Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching are the approved guidelines for research questions and used by ARS and LGU Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees to answer questions of animal care. USDA scientists had important roles in the development of this document. LGU, ARS and other USDA scientists have recently been involved in developing FASS sponsored training modules and an ARPAS program of training certification based on the Guide.
University, ARS and CSREES projects or support address environmental and management stressors in W-173 that can erode efficiency and increase costs of production (e.g., summer heat stress; stressor-related neonatal mortality in swine). This team provides information on how animals interact with the production environment and respond to animal management practices. The 173 team members explore stressor effects on: 1. growth; 2. behavior and immunity; 3. thermal stress, regulation of body temperature and meat quality; 4. genetic components to environmental stress responses; 5. management of thermal stress; 6. social stresses (e.g., prenatal stress);7. other management stressors (e.g., dietary manipulations such as supplements and health manipulations such as tail docking, dehorning and castration).
CSREES’s National Research Initiative (www.reeusda.gov/nri) supports both fundamental and applied research for agriculture. Three of its programs (Animal Health and Well-Being; Animal Reproduction; Animal Growth & Nutrient Utilization) are the principal competitive funding sources for well-being and stress research. The solicitation for proposals mirrors language from FAIR2002; stressors and behavioral expression in major species are addressed. Eligibility is open to a wide audience in the U.S., including universities, colleges, private organizations, ARS and other Federal agencies, and individuals. From 1996-2000, 13 proposals were approved for NRI funding. Seven additional proposals were awarded for FY2001.
The USDA Animal Well-Being Task Force is composed of administrator level personnel, while the supporting Animal Well-Being Committee membership is from a variety of animal science related agencies including several ARS and CSREES scientists. Important contributions have been made by these groups in creating USDA policy and direction in the animal well-being area. Slaughter practices, beak trimming and molting of poultry are recent areas of concern.
Objective 2: Determine the IMpact of Current and Alternative Production Ssytems; Animal Well-Being, Food Quality, Handling, Handling, Transportation, Slaughter
NCR-131 projects include an Encyclopedia of Farm Animal Behavior, which uses a video and print format (www.liru.asft.ttu.edu/efab/index.htm), and is led by ARS personnel. The NCR-131 committee has been involved in creation of a transportation symposium and other activities at the American Society of Animal Science Annual meetings. They are also participants in or organizers of other workshops such as a recent conference at Purdue University. Team members review and provide comments on documents such as the Guide for the Care and Use of Agricultural Animals in Agricultural Research and Teaching.
Research functions of NCR-131 are to: 1. understand the physiological and environmental factors that influence, and are influenced by, animal behavior; this information enhances both productivity and animal welfare in production systems; 2. teach students about animal behavior to increase awareness and understanding of the intricate relationship between behavior, production, and animal well-being; 3. develop behavioral and physiological techniques and criteria for assessing the well-being of agricultural animals; 4. investigate existing housing systems and animal management practices and determine the efficacy of alternative systems and practices toward improving the well-being of agricultural animals.
There is collaboration between ARS and university faculty on animal well-being and/or stressors at Well-Being Centers or universities in Texas, Maryland, Nebraska, Mississippi, Missouri, Washington, and Indiana, Kansas, and California. For example, research on swine health, well-being and productivity at the Animal Physiology Research Unit, Columbia, MO in collaboration with the University of Missouri, was recognized by the 2000 Innovation Award for Basic Research by the National Pork Producers Council. Work on nutritional supplements to alter the immune status of young pigs and response to disease challenges can be an alternative to subtherapeutic levels of antibiotics; and the use of stress related hormones during the early post-natal period to improve performance and well-being.
Objective 3: Explore Ethical Issues in Animal Production and Research
Western Region Coordinating Committee (WCC) 204, Animal Bioethics, was authorized in the summer of 2000, and the initial organizational meeting was held in Las Vegas in January, 2001. This group has a difficult agenda, that of providing leadership to create insight and opportunities regarding improved interactions and respect between the scientific community and the often confusing discipline of philosophy. A significant portion of the conflicts between activists and production personnel is due to a lack of understanding of each other’s viewpoint.
The objectives of the WCC-204 are to: 1. create a forum in which interested persons can discuss contentious social issues; 2. encourage development and coordination of activities and research projects; 3. deal with bio-ethical issues; 4. develop methods of outreach to allow scientists to respond directly to consumers and our critics; and, 5. provide a means of on-going critical analysis of our profession’s ability to address moral and socio-political issues. A short introductory symposium was held at the combined professional societies meeting this summer.
The Animal Welfare Information Center (AWIC) of the National Agricultural Library, USDA/ARS, supports the dissemination of objective information on laboratory animal research, and food animal research. An example of AWIC cooperation is their participation in developing and publishing the Animal Welfare Issues Compendium, coordinated by CSREES.
Objective 4: Identification of Emerging Issues
Only by constant vigilance and proactive efforts can we fulfill our responsibility to good animal husbandry and meet society’s changing expectations in the area of animal well-being. One potential area of increased emphasis is to address the suggestion that neutral organizations such as Land Grant Universities and state and Federal governments have an obligation to society to provide objective evaluations of animal rights and well-being issues. Then let society decide what is of importance by their purchasing patterns. For example, organic versus “natural“ or “free range” production of animals versus the more intensive confinement methods has long been an example of misunderstanding by consumers. Some people believe universities and governments have not fulfilled their obligations to these generally smaller producers through research and extension activities.
There is a need to stimulate coordinated multi-disciplinary research that incorporates production efficiency, physiological stressor evaluations and behavioral indicators of well-being. Research of management methods used in current and alternative systems are needed to understand and manage well-being and stress. Research on transportation stress in relation to food safety are being conducted at two ARS locations. We currently have limited knowledge of animals regarding the six components of the NP105.
Tail docking is a contentious issue. Abnormal neural formations were observed in tail-stumps of pigs, and temperature increased in tail-stumps of heifers. Similar observations are noted in humans, which leads to the need for further pain research.
Lean-type pigs were found to exhibit greater anxiety and altered immune response and neuro-chemisty when handled compared to conventional pigs. This information will be useful in balancing productivity and well-being traits in future genotypes of swine.
Excessive cattle movement generates dust exceeding levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Changing feeding time from morning to near sunset altered dust generating behavior and reduced dust levels to below EPA allowable limits.
Neonatal mortality and low growth performance of surviving piglets are a major cost to swine production. Plasma proteins in weaning diets provided protection from infectious disease. This discovery improves piglet health, well-being, and productivity.
Heat stress is a major problem in food animal production. Respiration rate was identified as an early indicator of stress and these findings have led to guidelines for managing cattle during hot weather and a respiration rate evaluation system for swine.
Monitoring cattle pasture using GPS and GIS systems found that the distribution of animals was not even across pasture areas, but was affected by many environmental and management variables. Intensively managed paddocks may elicit different behavior than extensive systems.
Infrared technology was evaluated as a useful and accurate tool for the early identification and correction of heat stress in cattle.
Pregnant gilts from diverse environments (indoor/outdoor) housed in gestation crates and fed conventional diets or high-fiber diets showed few physiological signs of stress. Feeding high-fiber diets did not result in animal welfare advantages, and has possible adverse environmental impacts so feeding high-fiber diets may not be a good option.
Housing modifications improved their walking ability and led to improvements in broiler well-being, without compromising growth efficiency. An improved system to assess lameness in chickens was developed.
Research on the expression of cannibalism found keeping hens in small groups, and installing visual barriers throughout the poultry house, could minimize this behavior.