Gentler Hens Peck Each Other Less
In researching poultry production practices and housing
alternatives, a team of animal scientists and behaviorists has found
that some hens are less prone to pecking than others. Although egg-laying
prowess has previously been the primary goal of poultry breeders, they
are now selecting birds that are less socially aggressive. In tests,
these gentler birdswithout beak trimminghave shown a 1.3
percent mortality from cannibalism and aggressive pecking, which is
far lower than that of commercial lines.
Animal welfare issues related to poultry housing and routine
practices such as beak trimming and induced molting are spurring research
such as this, to ensure both humane treatment of the animals and a healthy
bottom line for producers.
Heng Wei Cheng,
USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior
Research Unit, West Lafayette, Indiana; phone (765) 494-8022.
Seeking Quick Checks for E. Coli
Sometimes it's really important to know which strain of Escherichia
coli bacteria might be causing illness in a patient. Several strains,
such as O157:H7, are known to provoke severe gastrointestinal problems
including bloody diarrhea and hemorrhagic colitis and can lead to serious
health complications, including kidney failure. Experts use serotyping
to distinguish between E. coli strains and determine how potentially
dangerous a particular one might be. But the laboratory procedure is
labor intensive and time consuming.
Now scientists are developing tests using both conventional and real-time
PCR (polymerase chain reaction) methods. These chemical procedures generate
enough genetic material to allow identification and study of various
E. coli strains. The researchers want to find ways to detect
and identify specific E. coli serogroups and increase knowledge
of each one's potency.
Pina M. Fratamico,
USDA-ARS Microbial Food Safety
Research Unit, Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania; phone (215) 233-6525.
The Staying Power of Phosphorus
Too much of a good thing can often be a wasteor even a downright
pollutantbut not when it's unused phosphorus fertilizer. Wheat,
barley, corn, and other major crops require phosphorus fertilizer if
they're to produce profitable yields. But research has shown that annual
application isn't always necessary. In fact, a long-term study in Montana
has found that just one optimal application of phosphorus increased
soil test levels and crop yields for more than 17 years. In Nebraska
and Colorado, a single, optimal application of phosphorus also improved
yields for several years. But to save money, farmers often apply less
than the optimal amount of phosphorus annually.
The take-home message from this research is that applying enough phosphorus
fertilizer initially to eliminate phosphorus deficiency results in greater
cumulative grain yields and profits in the long term than annual applications
of suboptimal amounts. It appears that more can be accomplished if farmers
apply an optimal amount of phosphorus one year, then forego applications
for at least a year or two. Though the initial cost will be higher,
it's more economical in the long run than applying small amounts every
year and produces the best yields. Since cropping intensity influences
how quickly phosphorus is used, growers using annual cropping systems,
rather than wheat/fallow rotations, may find it necessary to apply it
more often-though still not every year.
Ardell D. Halvorson,
USDA-ARS Soil, Plant, and Nutrient
Research Laboratory, Fort Collins, Colorado; phone (970) 492-7230.