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Calf being studied in T-maze: Link to photo information

New Laboratory Designed to Study Livestock Behavior

By Dawn Lyons Johnson
June 17, 1997

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind., June 17--The newest high-tech U.S. Department of Agriculture laboratory here looks a lot like a barn--because it is one.

But this isn’t any ordinary barn. The 10,000-square-foot building is equipped with special features to help scientists with USDA’s Agricultural Research Service find out what makes animals “tick.” The scientists will study how animals perceive and interact with their environment and how environment can affect animals’ behavior and reaction to stress.

The scientists also will study animals’ environmental preferences--all part of the research mission at the ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit here. Joining the ARS scientists in their studies will be Purdue University’s Department of Animal Science and College of Veterinary Medicine.

“Our goal is to find the scientific basis for livestock behaviors and then use that information to determine what practices are best for livestock and for producers,” says Julie Morrow-Tesch, research leader of the ARS lab.

Livestock behavior studies traditionally have taken place in production pens and commercial facilities. But those settings pose problems when scientists want to isolate individual animals or conduct laboratory-quality experiments in the same tradition as other psychology research. The sheer size and weight of cattle and hogs also made it impractical and often expensive to design and build custom experimental pens.

The new building allows researchers to conduct experiments in a highly controlled environment that is comfortable for both researchers and the animals, Morrow-Tesch says.

“We wanted a building large enough to conduct a wide range of studies and utilize research tools like the Heb-Williams Maze, used to determine how an animal learns about the spatial features of its environment,” she explains.

The new laboratory’s floor is slip-proof, providing an extra measure of safety for its hoofed inhabitants. The building also features a network of postholes every 8 feet so scientists can construct custom-size pens and mazes using standard, commercially produced livestock panels, which will save both time and money, says Morrow-Tesch. “This way we don’t have to special-order materials or contract out for custom-size panels to complete our work,” she notes.

The building also houses a physiology laboratory, an electronics shop and offices.

A complete report on the new building is featured in the June issue of Agricultural Research, the monthly magazine of the Agricultural Research Service. The story can also be viewed on the World Wide Web at:


Scientific contact: Julie Morrow-Tesch, USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior Research Laboratory, West Lafayette, IN 47907-1026. Phone (765) 494-8022, fax 496-1993,