Stress Factors of Farm Animals and Their Effects on Performance

A technician assesses a beef steer for Bovine Respiratory Disease, often caused by stress.

W-1173 (2006-2011):  This project has enhanced our understanding of stressors that impact domestic farm animal productivity; of factors that act as intermediaries to stress  responses; and of management practices that can relieve stress within the environment to enhance animal comfort and maintain a secure, productive, and low-cost food supply.

The U.S. dairy industry loses more than $1.5 billion is each year as a result of heat stress. “Cow showers” may help, giving animals the opportunity to use water to cool down. Photo by: Sylvia Wright / UC Davis.

Who cares and why?

Environmental and management stressors erode efficiency and cost livestock production enterprises billions of dollars annually in lost potential profitability. For example, in the absence of heat abatement measures, total losses across all animal classes averaged $2.4 billion annually as of 2003. Of the total, reduction in milk production potential represented a major portion of the losses to the dairy industry, which average between $897 million and $1.5 billion. Adverse weather conditions, including the effects of hot and cold climatic conditions, are particularly difficult for confinement beef cattle feeding enterprises.

What has the project done so far?

Outputs of the project’s collaborations are documented by the researchers’ commitment to dissemination and publication of research  results via national and international activities in the last four years.  Project members have published 97 peer-reviewed manuscripts and 144  other scientific papers. Nearly all of these documents contain shared  authorship among participating project stations. Ongoing  accomplishments of the group are a result of interactions among research scientists trained in a variety of disciplines and with expertise in a broad  range of livestock species. This comparative and multi-disciplinary  approach uniquely facilitates the expansion of research capabilities  among group participants. Project researchers are regular participants and/or invited speakers in special sessions and symposia on the biology of stress in livestock at national and international meetings. They have published collaborative review articles aimed at addressing updates  and/or changes in guidelines for livestock and are working collaboratively on resource materials for a textbook, Thermal Biology of Domestic  Animals, to be published in 2012. Members routinely share resources and expertise in research, and this has led to significant interactions among project participant laboratories, multi-institutional research projects, and joint meetings with other multi-state working groups with related focus  areas. The collaborative interdependence among stations originally  envisioned for multi-state projects is prominent in this research group.

Impact Statements

  • Advanced understanding of the biology of stress response components  and measures of animal well-being, giving researchers a basis for  predicting when an animal is under stress or distress and in need of  attention.
  • Identified management practices that improve animal  environments and reduce the potential for animal stress.
  • Shared information and recommendations with farmers and industries, helping  them reduce animal stress and increase animal productivity, resulting in increases in net income for livestock enterprises.

What research is needed?

The future research needs for this group are to identify strategies for developing and monitoring appropriate measures of animal stress and  well-being; assess genetic components, including genomics and proteomics, of animal stress and well-being; and develop alternative  management practices to reduce stress and improve animal well-being and performance. These research needs will be addressed through  collaborative research efforts by participating members of W-1173.

Want more information?

Administrative Advisor: Larry Curtis, larry.curtis@oregonstate.edu

Download the printable PDF!

This project was supported by the Multistate Research Fund (MRF) established in 1998 by the Agricultural Research, Extension, and Education Reform Act (an amendment to the  Hatch Act of 1888) to encourage and enhance multistate, multidisciplinary research on critical issues that have a national or regional priority. For more information, visit  http://www.waaesd.org/.

Studying shade use in dairy cattle. Photo by Cassandra Tucker.