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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: SAFEGUARDING WELL-BEING OF FOOD PRODUCING ANIMALS

Location: Livestock Behavior Research

2009 Annual Report


1a.Objectives (from AD-416)
The long-term objective of this project is to optimize animal well-being and productivity. The approach is to focus on animal behavior, the outward expression of the cumulative effects of internal biological changes, to assess where challenges may exist and to develop alternative management strategies to solve these challenges. Over the next five years we will focus on the following objectives:

Objective 1: Develop scientific measures of, identify husbandry and environmental challenges to, and develop sustainable alternatives that safeguard well-being of swine. Objective 2: Develop scientific measures of, identify husbandry and environmental challenges to, and develop sustainable alternatives that safeguard well-being of dairy cattle. Objective 3: Develop scientific measures of, identify husbandry and environmental challenges to, and develop sustainable alternatives that safeguard well-being of poultry.


1b.Approach (from AD-416)
This project will examine animal agricultural practices, using behavior, physiology, immunology, and neurobiology, in order to maximize both animal well-being and productivity. Our approach will be to conduct multiple research projects on common production practices and evaluate how these practices affect livestock behavior, physiology, and physical condition, and we will work to assess the animals’ mental state. This unit is charged with the difficult task of conducting research for three animal species: dairy cattle, swine, and poultry. To accomplish this goal, unit scientists representing different backgrounds and areas of expertise will work together on multiple and varying projects to cover the main issues characteristic of the production system of each species. The broad view of our ultimate goal is that we wish to.
1)discover and further refine objective measures of stress, and.
2)evaluate and create appropriate management and housing methods. Each objective in this project is a step forward toward our ultimate goal. Our success will provide stakeholders with assurance that animal well-being is optimized and it will provide producers with technology to remain competitive.


3.Progress Report
Heart rate variability as a novel method to measure stress. A great deal of data have been collected. This year we have organized and summarized most of the data and we have finalized the analysis of a portion of these data, which were presented at an international meeting.

Identification of novel measures of stress. The chickens used for the development of stress indicators have been set up as proposed in the research project.

Development of alternative methods to render molt and beak trimming. The chickens used for the development of beak trimming and induced molting have been set up as proposed in the research project.

Microarray analysis to determine novel markers of chronic environmental stress in dairy cattle was completed and genes were selected from the microarray data for PCR verification.

Half of the data collection for the pig aggression study was carried out at a small, niche-market, outdoor producer with pedigree Berkshire swine. The results from our study will be applicable not only to large-scale indoor production, but will also equally apply to small-scale outdoor production.


4.Accomplishments
1. Molasses consumption is a reliable measure of stress. Obtaining non-invasive measures of stress is a challenge to researchers who wish to evaluate housing and management procedures. Scientists within the Livestock Behavior Research Unit, West Lafayette, Indiana established a mixing and isolation model and showed that stressed calves would voluntarily consume more molasses compared to non-stressed controls. This model can be used by researchers in the design and evaluation of novel agricultural housing methods and procedures.

2. Effects of sampling method on stress hormone concentrations. Obtaining a true measure of stress hormones from pigs is difficult because traditional blood sampling involves restraint of the animal – a method that itself elevates the hormones being measured. A penning system, developed at the Livestock Behavior Research Unit, West Lafayette, Indiana, allows blood samples to be taken automatically. Levels of hormones such as cortisol and norepinephrine were significantly lower than those in blood obtained using a traditional restraint method. The development of automatic blood sampling will enable us to investigate real effects of environmental stressors rather than artifacts influenced by collection method.

3. Cows housed on rubber flooring have an improved ability to cope with disease. Cow lameness is one of the biggest challenges faced by the dairy industry. Scientists within the Livestock Behavior Research Unit, West Lafayette, Indiana compared cows housed on rubber to cows housed on concrete; we found that cows on rubber had a greater ability to fight disease. Molecular markers of pain signaling taken from white blood cells were less for the concrete-housed cows because these markers typically decrease when inflammatory cytokines increase. These data imply that inflammation was occurring in the concrete-housed cows. These data are useful for producers to determine the potential benefits of investing in rubber flooring that may extend beyond the reduction of incidence of lameness.

4. Important behavioral sequences indicate whether unacquainted pairs of sows will fight. Unacquainted sows fight when introduced to each other but their detailed behavior during introduction has not been studied to determine whether escalation of their behavior into aggression can be predicted from behavioral sequences. We found that certain behaviors such as nose-to-nose contact decreases subsequent risk of aggression, whereas others, such as ignoring social contact, increases subsequent risk of aggression. Aggression at mixing is a major issue for the US swine industry as it moves towards group housing of sows. Our results improve our understanding of what causes aggression to escalate and will help in the design of methods that will promote the ‘positive’ behaviors before mixing, thereby reducing the aggression.


5.Significant Activities that Support Special Target Populations
Half of the data collection for this project was carried out at a small, ‘niche-market’, outdoor producer with pedigree Berkshire swine. The results from our study will be applicable not only to large-scale indoor production, but will also equally apply to small-scale outdoor production, thereby benefiting USDA target populations.


Review Publications
Schenck, E.L., McMunn, K.A., Nielsen, B.D., Richert, B.T., Marchant Forde, J.N., Lay Jr, D.C. 2008. Exercise in stall-housed gestating gilts: Effects on lameness, the musculo-skeletal system, production and behavior. Journal of Animal Science. 86:3166-3180.

Wilcox, C.S., Schutz, M.M., Donkin, S.S., Lay Jr, D.C., Eicher, S.D. 2008. Short Communication: Effect of temporary glycosuria on molasses consumption in Holstein calves. Journal of Dairy Science. 91:3607-3610.

Last Modified: 9/29/2014
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