W3173: Impacts of Stress Factors on Performance, Health, and Well-Being of Farm Animals (from W2173)

(Multistate Research Project)

Status: Active


By 2050, the world population will be 34% higher than today, reaching an estimated 9.1 billion people. Food animal production will need to increase by 1.7-fold to meet the growing world demand for animal protein (FAO, 2012). As a result, animal husbandry systems may become more intensified (concentrated animal feeding operations; CAFO) because fewer natural resources will be available to raise animals. In addition, new biotechnologies (e.g. gene-editing, growth promotants, feed-additives) and better housing systems may be needed to help increase the adaptation rates for domestic animals so that they can remain efficient and healthy, despite a variable climate. However, CAFOs and biotechnologies are often viewed by consumers with animosity over the concern of animal welfare and food safety, therefore, producers have to balance these concerns with productivity despite an increase in climate variability and limited resources. Nonetheless, animals in both intensive and extensive production systems are faced with potential macro- and micro-environmental stressors (Canario et al., 2013). In order to balance these challenges, producers will need to raise and manage farm animals so that they are resilient to environmental stressors. Stress physiology plays a significant role in objectively improving animal welfare, productivity, and ultimately, food security. When animals are not able to cope with macro- and micro-environmental stressors, US livestock producers can lose billions of dollars. For example, St. Pierre et al., et al. (2003) reported that without heat stress abatement measures, total losses in poultry and livestock costs $2.4 billion each year. Dairy cattle were the most affected in this calculation, with a yearly loss of $897 to $1500 million annually (St.-Pierre et al., 2003). In 2003, Mader predicted that the extreme climate variation will cost beef cattle industry members $10-20 million annually.

Climatic conditions affect both animals in both CAFOs and extensive systems (Renaudeau, et al., 2012) In 2013, extreme cold fronts in October eliminated or killed over 10,000 beef cattle in extensive systems across the north and Midwest US regions. In winter 2015, 30,000 dairy cows reared in intensive systems in TX and NM were killed after an unusual winter storm, “Goliath,” hit the region. Severe droughts caused overall cattle numbers in 2013 to reach their lowest since 1952 (Stewart, J. 2013). The extreme weather changes reduced the amount of beef cattle produced in recent years. The loss in cattle numbers tripled the male dairy calf market, and are typically produced and managed in CAFOs (Hulbert and Moisá, 2016). Poultry and pig CAFOs were also affected by climate change, as buildings are difficult to keep efficiently cooled and ventilated during heat waves. In addition, droughts changed in wild-bird migration patterns, and incidence of disease in poultry and swine may increase (Arrus et al., 2006; Tian et al., 2015). Animals will need to be selected for stress-resilience, immunocompetence, and performance, even though these three traits do not always complement each other. Management stressors can exacerbate diseases caused by macro- and micro-environmental stages, especially during early stages of life (Turner et al., 2001).

The research, technologies, and information generated by the previous W1173 and W2173 groups provided both basic and applied knowledge to our stake holders. This group has succeeded in sharing resources and creating novel methods to improve stress-resilience and immunocompetence in animals. For example, this group is responsible for many of the heat stress abatement technologies and basic understanding in improving cattle comfort and health. They (1) produced new technologies to measure and better understand animal stress responses, immunity and behavior; (2) identified genes and gene expression for stress-resilience and immunocompetence and, (3) identified key management and nutritional strategies to help animals acclimate to environmental changes.   These collaborative efforts will need to be accelerated and continue to improve food security from the animal sectors. Multistate efforts allow for the sharing of data, resources, animals, and ideas. These scientists and engineers pull together a diverse range of skillsets and expertise to address the objectives outlined in this proposal. Thus, the outcomes of this multistate project will broadly impact production practices, animal comfort and wellbeing, and improve profitability across diverse livestock commodity sectors.

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