Beef Cattle Stress

Beef Cattle Stress included when researchers Seek Methods to Control Farm Animal Stress.

If a farm animal is reared in a stressful environment, its immune response, health and growth may suffer. Often, it may respond with unusual behavior. These indicators can tell producers a great deal about an animal’s physical and mental well-being if they know how to read the warning signs. But knowing an animal’s needs is only part of the solution. Livestock producers then require new management practices that improve an animal’s welfare, but still provides them a margin of profit.

Several ARS research units are examining management practices as they relate to animal well-being. The mission of one location, the Livestock Behavior Research Unit in West Lafayette, IN, is to develop scientifically based measures of animal well-being to improve existing practices and invent new ones that enhance animal well-being and increase the efficiency of dairy, swine and poultry production.

Current projects being carried out by the research unit in collaboration with Purdue University demonstrate the balance between animal welfare and production.

For example, West Lafayette researchers are investigating whether feeding high-fiber supplements containing two forms of beta-glucan products from yeast cell walls in conjunction with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) could serve as alternatives to prophylactic antibiotic use. The supplements were found to improve weight gain, health status and overall well-being in Holstein dairy calves. One form of beta-glucan used in feed supplements also improved the calves’ immune responses. Research is ongoing into whether the supplements might help alleviate transportation stress in dairy calves.

The researchers are looking at the controversial practice of housing sows in crates during long periods of their pregnancies. They found that small alterations of present housing could allow groups of sows more movement and social contact than in gestation stalls and even result in greater weight gains for piglets born to these group-housed pigs.

Other research in West Lafayette has found that through genetic selection, white leghorn chickens can be selected to be non-aggressive and non-cannibalistic and that these changes are reflected in altered brain development. This change in behavior can help the hen adapt very well to modern poultry industry practices. This process of genetic selection is not only applicable to poultry but could be applied to other farm animals.

Researchers want broiler chickens to space themselves out evenly so they are not crowded together in pens, which may increase social stress. A team of researchers determined the effect of early environmental enrichment on behavioral and physiological development in chicks. They found that early age visual imprinting during early life promotes brain structure development and improves spatial memory in chicks.

ARS researchers are working to define stress and find solutions to minimize it in a way that strikes a balance between those with shared interests in livestock well-being.

The West Lafayette unit is part of the ARS National Program Animal Well-Being and Stress Control Systems (#105), which began in 1994 with a mission to develop measures of farm animal well-being by evaluating management practices and observing animal behavior to determine which techniques most benefit animals, producers and consumers. There are three other ARS research units in this program. They are located in Clay Center, NE; Columbia, MO; and Mississippi State, MS.