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New USDA Lab to Study Stress Indicators in Livestock

By Don Comis
June 3, 2004

WASHINGTON, June 3--The Agricultural Research Service opened a new 2,300-square-foot Farm Animal Behavior and Well-Being Laboratory today in West Lafayette, Ind., for the study of stress indicators in livestock. Researchers at the new laboratory also study the relationship between stress and the ability of pathogenic bacteria to establish themselves in animals. ARS is the chief scientific research agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

The new facility adjoins a 10,000-square-foot laboratory built in 1997 to house ARS' Livestock Behavior Research Unit, which conducts behavioral studies of swine, cattle and poultry.

Purdue University animal scientists work alongside ARS scientists on the Purdue campus and at the Purdue Animal Science Farm about 15 miles north of the main campus. Purdue hosted a dedication ceremony today for its Swine Environmental Research Building, located on the university farm near the new ARS laboratory.

ARS Acting Administrator Edward B. Knipling said the new ARS lab will complement the behavioral studies under way in the animal lab to find possible objective measures of animal stress.

"Stress in livestock can lower productivity and possibly increase the risk of contamination from Salmonella and other bacterial pathogens," Knipling said.

Donald C. Lay, research leader and animal behavioralist at the lab, is working on an imaging system to show the movement of Salmonella bacteria through live pigs. He and colleagues are also researching alternative housing for poultry and livestock.

In tandem with the housing research, the ARS-Purdue team is pioneering the idea of breeding nonaggressive animals to reduce losses and stress. This includes selecting sows whose maternal behavior makes them less likely to injure their piglets, a problem that costs farmers more than $600 million annually.