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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service


Location: Livestock Behavior Research

2013 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:
This serves as the final report for 3602-32000-009D terminated in March 2013, Safeguarding Well-being of Food Producing Animals. A great deal of research was conducted and significant progress has been accomplished in all three objectives of this 5-year project. Objective 1 focused on the welfare of swine. Under this objective we were successful in developing a novel penning system in which biological samples could be collected from swine without causing them stress. This has allowed for a ‘true’ measure of stress from unrestrained swine and allows research to move forward in evaluating production procedures and welfare. We also validated a novel measure of stress, heart rate variability, in swine which can be used as a valid indicator of welfare. Our objective to increase sow longevity led to the discovering that the problem with lameness starts at a much younger age than first realized with yearling pigs having substantial damage in their legs. This is guiding research in our next 5-year plan to find ways to alleviate this problem. Our evaluation of aggression in swine found it to be a much more complicated issue than previously thought. Regardless, identification of methods of housing swine to decrease aggression when these animals are mixed was identified. Objective 2 focused on the welfare of dairy cattle. We identified novel markers of chronic stress by targeting the immune system. These markers are being used in our next 5-year plan to target early intervention strategies to prevent lameness in dairy cattle. We also made significant progress in identifying challenges that calves faces when born to mothers that experience heat stress. Our future research will address the mechanisms that cause these changes so that management strategies can be implemented. Objective 3 focused on the welfare of poultry. We were able to identify common novel indicators of stress in poultry that are expressed in different stressful situations such as transportation and heat stress. These allow our future research to move forward to modify these parameters to help poultry manage the stress of their environments. Our research on alternatives to methods of beak-trimming chickens identified a less painful method which is currently being adopted by the poultry industry. And finally our work on alternatives to molting hens identified a compound that can be added to the hens’ feed such that they will not experience hunger from the process. The overall impact of our research is that we have improved animal well-being and provided novel methods and measures of stress that will allow animal welfare research to move substantially forward.

4. Accomplishments

Review Publications
Marchant Forde, J.N., Lay Jr, D.C., Marchant-Forde, R.M., McMunn, K.A., Richert, B.T. 2012. The effects of R-salbutamol on growth, carcass measures and health of finishing pigs. Journal of Animal Science. 90:4081-4089.

Rault, J., McMunn, K.A., Marchant Forde, J.N., Lay Jr, D.C. 2013. Gas alternatives to carbon dioxide for euthanasia: A piglet perspective. Journal of Animal Science. 4:1874-1883.

Hester, P.Y., Enneking, S.A., Haley, B.K., Cheng, H., Einstein, M.E., Rubin, D.A. 2013. The effect of perch availability during pullet rearing and egg laying on musculoskeletal health of caged White Leghorn hens. Poultry Science. 92(8):1972-1980.

Last Modified: 06/26/2017
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