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Farm Animal Behavior Becoming More Critical to the Bottom Line

By Don Comis
September 7, 2000

Take away a steer’s right to a good sundown grazing and you’ll have a fight on your hands.

That’s what Agricultural Research Service animal behaviorist Julie Morrow-Tesch found during periodic 24-hour surveillances of cattle pens in one of the numerous feedlots that hold a total of 6 million head of cattle in the Texas Panhandle.

Morrow-Tesch, who studies animal behavior and physiology with ARS in Lubbock, Texas, found that feeding cattle just before sunset--instead of the usual morning meals--cut the number of aggressive incidents by almost half.

These evening melees cost feedlots $70 a head, on average, in injuries and could cost more in U.S. Environmental Protection Agency fines because pushing and shoving can raise dust levels above allowable limits. The free-for-all’s are a substitute for cattle’s instinctive twilight grazing.

The study of applied animal behavior is fairly new to agriculturalists. It has given rise to ARS’ national program on animal well-being, begun in 1994. ARS is the chief scientific agency in the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Morrow-Tesch will describe her research at the 24th annual Beltsville Symposium, “Healthy Animals,” September 10-12 in Beltsville, Md. View the full program on the Internet at:

She will discuss other examples of her research, including how:

  • social ranking affects responses to stresses such as heat or transport;
  • some standard agricultural practices can cause stress;
  • proteins may indicate psychological and physical stress;
  • misting animals with water to cool them down may increase E-coli;
  • alternative management systems may reduce chronic stress; and
  • objective measures of stress can be used to assess practices.

Other symposium presenters will discuss relationships between animal well-being and food safety, including how World Trade Organization rules may affect U.S. livestock-raising practices.

Scientific contact: Julie Morrow-Tesch, ARS Livestock Issues Research Unit Staff, Lubbock, Texas, phone (806) 742-2826, fax (806) 742-2335,

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