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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 14, March 2003
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Researchers Seek Methods to Control Farm Animal Stress

If a farm animal is reared in a stressful environment, its immune response, health and growth may suffer. Often, it may respond with unusual behavior. These indicators can tell producers a great deal about an animal's physical and mental well-being if they know how to read the warning signs. But knowing an animal's needs is only part of the solution. Livestock producers then require new management practices that improve an animal's welfare, but still provides them a margin of profit.

Several ARS research units are examining management practices as they relate to animal well-being. The mission of one location, the Livestock Behavior Research Unit in West Lafayette, IN, is to develop scientifically based measures of animal well-being to improve existing practices and invent new ones that enhance animal well-being and increase the efficiency of dairy, swine and poultry production.

Current projects being carried out by the research unit in collaboration with Purdue University demonstrate the balance between animal welfare and production.

For example, West Lafayette researchers are investigating whether feeding high-fiber supplements containing two forms of beta-glucan products from yeast cell walls in conjunction with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) could serve as alternatives to prophylactic antibiotic use. The supplements were found to improve weight gain, health status and overall well-being in Holstein dairy calves. One form of beta-glucan used in feed supplements also improved the calves' immune responses. Research is ongoing into whether the supplements might help alleviate transportation stress in dairy calves.

A sow and her piglets: Link to photo informationThe researchers are looking at the controversial practice of housing sows in crates during long periods of their pregnancies. They found that small alterations of present housing could allow groups of sows more movement and social contact than in gestation stalls and even result in greater weight gains for piglets born to these group-housed pigs.

Other research in West Lafayette has found that through genetic selection, white leghorn chickens can be selected to be non-aggressive and non-cannibalistic and that these changes are reflected in altered brain development. This change in behavior can help the hen adapt very well to modern poultry industry practices. This process of genetic selection is not only applicable to poultry but could be applied to other farm animals.

Researchers want broiler chickens to space themselves out evenly so they are not crowded together in pens, which may increase social stress. A team of researchers determined the effect of early environmental enrichment on behavioral and physiological development in chicks. They found that early age visual imprinting during early life promotes brain structure development and improves spatial memory in chicks.

ARS researchers are working to define stress and find solutions to minimize it in a way that strikes a balance between those with shared interests in livestock well-being.

The West Lafayette unit is part of the ARS National Program Animal Well-Being and Stress Control Systems (#105), which began in 1994 with a mission to develop measures of farm animal well-being by evaluating management practices and observing animal behavior to determine which techniques most benefit animals, producers and consumers. There are three other ARS research units in this program. They are located in Clay Center, NE; Columbia, MO; and Mississippi State, MS. For more information, contact any of the following:

For more information, contact any of the following researchers:

Donald C. Lay, West Lafayette, IN
Steven M. Kappes, Clay Center, NE
Jeff Carroll, Lubbock, TX
John D. Simmons, Mississippi State, MS

Research Briefs

ARS researchers have developed a new PCR test to detect a strain of avian influenza endemic in live bird markets.
David Suarez
(706) 546-3479

ARS researchers led a group of collaborators in obtaining Holstein dairy cattle germplasm to help ensure genetic resources and to increase genetic diversity in the United States' primary dairy cattle breed.
Harvey Blackburn
(970) 495-3200

The "nipple waterflow rate stick" is a new device co-developed by ARS to measure how much water chickens receive, the rate at which they receive it, and what materials are being carried along with it through automatic watering systems.
Jack Simmons
(662) 320-7480

The CPJ vaccinator protects chickens against deadly diseases more quietly, more quickly and more efficiently than its predecessor.
Scott L. Branton
(662) 320-7483

Feed requirements for ewes and other farm animals should become more efficient, thanks to new formulas developed by ARS to factor in an animal's basal metabolism.
Harvey C. Freetly
(402) 762-4202


Andrew J. Mitchell and Billy R. Griffin (retired) of the ARS Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center recently received a technology transfer award from the agency for developing a pond shoreline treatment to control aquatic snails spreading disease to farm-raised catfish.

Research microbiologist Robin C. Anderson at ARS' Food and Feed Safety Research Unit was named "Early Career Scientist of the Year" for ARS' Southern Plains Area. He developed a preharvest feed or water supplement that reduces Salmonella and E. coli O157:H7 in food animals.

Healthy Animals archive

Research and Teaching Resource

ARS' Livestock Issues Research Unit in Lubbock, TX, has a handy resource available online to help determine if certain farm animal actions constitute a given behavior. The Encyclopedia of Farm Animal Behavior (EFAB) is currently restricted to cattle and pig behavior.

About This Newsletter

ARS Animal Health Research Laboratories

Healthy Animals Archive

Last Modified: 2/6/2007
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