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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 3, January 2000
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Using Science to Care for Livestock

Consumers, producers, researchers and veterinarians share the goal of providing the animals that supply our food with the best environment possible. Notwithstanding the ethical reasons for attaining such a goal, it makes good economic sense. To the extent that well-being correlates with health, livestock producers benefit directly when their animals thrive. The methods for meeting this goal are less clear.

One of the primary goals of the ARS national program on Animal Well-Being and Stress Control Systems is to develop rational, scientifically based, and integrated measures of animal well-being. However, challenges lie in both collecting and interpreting data on stress responses in animals.

Dr. John McGlone of Texas Tech University described the problem well at last year’s national program workshop. He described a study wherein outdoor-reared pigs showed a lower immune response than indoor-reared pigs. McGlone wondered if the lower response indicated that the pigs living outside were more stressed and thus had impaired immune function, or if the animals indoors were exposed to more microorganisms that stimulated their immune response.

ARS supports about a dozen researchers at five laboratories investigating various aspects of animal stress and well-being. The scientists bring wide-ranging, multidisciplinary expertise to this new science of farm-animal welfare, including animal neuroscience, behavior and immunology, biochemistry, biological systems engineering, and reproductive physiology. In addition, each ARS laboratory collaborates extensively with local universities and overseas research institutions.

Current projects include work on:

  • the impact of tail docking on dairy cows
  • the influence of genetic selection in pigs for leanness on stress hormones
  • the effect of lighting and air circulation on poultry’s feed and water intake
  • stress responses in neonatal pigs
  • cattle mortality from dust pneumonia
  • the effect of air temperature and heat stress on livestock growth
  • the impact of housing on swine brain development.

Recent accomplishments include the discovery that calves castrated shortly after birth suffered less stress and recovered faster than those castrated around weaning time. Other ARS researchers developed instruments to optimize ventilation in poultry houses.

For more information, visit the website describing this national program.

Or contact any of the following:

John Nienaber, Clay Center, NE
Robert Matteri, Columbia, MO
Julie Morrow-Tesch, Lubbock, TX
James May, Mississippi State, MS
Susan Eicher-Pruiett, West Lafayette, IN

Research Briefs

A newly patented gene probe, based on a genetic sequence discovered by ARS researchers, detects the organism that causes Johne's disease in blood, tissue and fecal samples.
Judith H. Stabel
(515) 663-7304

Dairy cows and steers seem to prefer tropical corn over sorghum, according to ARS research. Though it is slightly less digestible for steers, increased preference led to greater consumption, evening out the difference. Milk production increased 10 to 20 percent over sorghum.
Joseph C. Burns
(919) 515-7599

Bromelain helps keep the white cell count down in cows’ milk, according to ARS research, and appears to reduce inflammation in animals. Bromelain is a mix of enzymes extracted from pineapple plants.
Max J. Paape
(301) 504-8302

So far, ARS researchers have studied 105 of the more than 1,000 genetic markers for cattle that researchers have discovered. As a result, individual genes influencing important traits like mastitis resistance will be easier to identify and use in breeding decisions.
Curtis P. Van Tassell
(301) 504-9271

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Last Modified: 2/6/2007
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