Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Livestock Behavior Research

2010 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
All research in this project is progressing well. This project is in the early stages and already progressing ahead of schedule. Sow Lameness Research. We have 3 replicates of swine on dietary treatments aimed to increase cartilage health, and thus far, we have collected all the data on the first replication of animals with the other animals on target for completion. This is a 3 year study so results are not yet expected. Our work to decrease stomach ulcers in sows is also progressing as planned. We have conducted the laboratory studies and are moving to implement treatments on the farm. Heat Stress in Poultry and Cattle. We have completed one experiment on heat stress in poultry and data are being analyzed. We have also collected data for the heat stress study of dairy calves with both control and heat stress data collection complete. Heart Rate Variability as a Novel Measure of Stress. We have successfully identified the low and high frequencies of swine heart rate using pharmacological methods. This will be useful to many scientists in their assessment of stress. A manuscript is being prepared. Alternatives to Traditional Molting. This study has been completed and the manuscript is currently being prepared.

4. Accomplishments
1. Infrared beak trimming improves hen welfare. Beak trimming, using a hot blade, is a common practice in the poultry industry that is often criticized as inhumane. ARS researchers at West Lafayette, IN investigated an alternative method of beak trimming which uses an infrared laser, similar to those used in biomedical procedures. They used both treatments and studied 60 production hens from 5 to 35 weeks of age. Hens which were beak-trimmed using the infrared laser method showed an improvement in performance and a reduction in stress levels. These results suggest that the infrared beak treatment provides a more welfare friendly means of beak trimming, allowing birds to display more efficient feeding behavior with less morphological abnormalities of the beak stumps. This study provides scientific evidence to support the use of infrared beak-trimming by producers and addresses the welfare concern of the current practice.

2. Genetic variation can help poultry to combat heat stress. Heat stress is a major problem experienced by poultry during high-temperature conditions. The ability to manage the detrimental effects can be attributed to many factors, including genetics. ARS researchers in West Lafayette, IN studied two different genetic lines of poultry to determine their ability to cope with heat. The two strains tested differed in their ability to cope with heat, with one strain showing more panting and behavioral modifications aimed at reducing their heat load. The data suggest that heat stress has detrimental effects on the physiology of laying hens; however, differences were observed in the heat stress response due to the genetic basis of variation. These results provide evidence that will be valuable for determining interventions for laying hens under heat stress conditions.

3. Heart rate variability frequency bands have been defined which provide a measure of positive and negative stress. The causal neurophysiological processes that mediate behavioral and physiological reactivity to an environment have largely been ignored. Heart rate variability analysis is a clinical diagnostic tool used to assess affective states (stressful and pleasant) in humans, but its application is very limited in farm animals. ARS scientists in West Lafayette, IN conducted an experiment to define the low frequency and high frequency components of heart rate in swine using pharmacologic blockade. They successfully define both the low and high frequency bands which are measures of negative and positive states, respectively. This will allow future research to use heart rate variability analysis in assessing the welfare state of swine.

4. Understanding aggression when sows are mixed in indoor and outdoor housing systems. ARS researchers in West Lafayette, IN, identified important behavioral sequences when unacquainted sows meet in limited and unlimited space. 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, particularly in indoor pens. Indoors, sows engage in steadily escalating aggressive behaviors over time and display more pushes, knocks, and bites than sows being mixed outdoors in more space. However, outdoor sows are quicker to initiate high intensity aggression without the steady escalation seen indoors. Although biting occurs more quickly outdoors, the total number of bites delivered and the number of bites per interaction are lower than seen indoors. These differences in strategy are most likely due to the amount of space in the different situations. Indoors, sows cannot get away from each other after a fight has taken place, and therefore before engaging in a fight, they probably use low intensity interactions to obtain information about their chances of winning a fight. Outdoors, the space available for escape means that a loss can be immediately followed by withdrawal and avoidance. 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
Understanding aggression when sows are mixed in indoor and outdoor housing systems. 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
Marchant Forde, J.N., Pajor, E.A. 2009. Welfare of Gestating Sows. In: Marchant-Forde, J.N., editor. The Welfare of Pigs. Dordrecht, The Netherlands:Springer Science + Business Media B.V. p. 95-140.

Cheng, H. 2010. Breeding of Tomorrow’s Chickens to Improve Well-Being. Poultry Science. 89(4):805-813.

Pohle, K., Cheng, H. 2009. Furnished Cage System and Hen Well-Being: Comparative Effects of Furnished and Battery Cages on Egg Production and Physiological Parameters of White Leghorn Hens. Poultry Science. 88(8):1559-1564.

Horn, M.J., Van Emon, M.L., Gunn, P.J., Eicher, S.D., Lemenager, R.P., Pyatt, N., Lake, S.L. 2010. The Effects of Maternal Natural (RRR Alpha-Tocopherol Acetate) or Synthetic (All-Rac Alpha-Tocopherol Acetate) Vitamin E Supplementation on Suckling Calf Performance, Colostrum IgG, and Immune Function. Journal of Animal Science. 88:3128-3135.

Bewley, J.M., Boehlje, M.D., Gray, A.W., Hogeveen, H., Kenyon, S.J., Eicher, S.D., Schutz, M.M. 2010. Assessing the Potential Value for an Automated Body Condition Scoring System through Stochastic Simulation. Agricultural Finance Review. 70(1):126-150.

Poletto, R., Meisel, R.L., Richert, B.T., Cheng, H., Marchant Forde, J.N. 2010. Aggression in Replacement Grower and Finisher Gilts Fed a High-Tryptophan Diet and the Effect of Long-Term Human-Animal Interaction. Applied Animal Behaviour Science. 122(24):90-110.

Bewley, J.M., Boehlje, M.D., Gray, A.W., Hogeveen, H., Kenyon, S.J., Eicher, S.D., Schutz, M.M. 2010. Stochastic Simulation using @Risk for Dairy Business Investment Decisions. Agricultural Finance Review. 70(1):97-125.

Last Modified: 07/26/2017
Footer Content Back to Top of Page