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
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
The 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
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
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
Lay, West Lafayette, IN
Steven M. Kappes,
Clay Center, NE
Carroll, Lubbock, TX
John D. Simmons,
ARS researchers have developed a new
PCR test to detect
a strain of avian influenza endemic in live bird markets.
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.
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.
The CPJ vaccinator
against deadly diseases more quietly, more quickly and more efficiently than
Feed requirements for ewes and other farm
animals should become more efficient, thanks to
developed by ARS to factor in an animal's basal metabolism.
Harvey C. Freetly
Andrew J. Mitchell and Billy R.
Griffin (retired) of the
Harry K. Dupree Stuttgart National Aquaculture Research Center recently
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'
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.
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.