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Animal & Animal Products Overview

Animal agriculture is a significant portion of U.S. agriculture. Related research, education and extension activities are continually changing to address new challenges and opportunities brought about by rapidly advancing technologies, evolving consumer demand, and the need to make positive contributions to environmental, human, and animal health. Efficient, science-based animal agriculture translates into affordable and high-quality food for the consumer. NIFA and its land-grant university partners collaborate with industry and other interested parties to develop and disseminate knowledge and methods to improve agriculturally relevant animal systems.

NIFA animal-related programs which cover beef cattle, dairy cattle, poultry, swine, aquaculture, sheep, goats, and horses encourage multi-disciplinary approaches and the integration of research, education, and extension.  These activities are focused on approaches that are economically sound, socially acceptable, and environmentally advantageous. NIFA animal programs also contain a balance of discipline-based components, including animal reproduction, nutrition, genetics, physiology, environmental stress, product quality, management, health, well-being, and security. 

Animal Breeding, Genetics & Genomics: Animal protein is essential in meeting escalating nutritional needs around the world. NIFA Animal Breeding, Genetics & Genomics research focuses on desirable genetic animal traits that have revolutionized poultry, livestock, and fish production. These genetic traits include animals that are leaner; have increased disease resistance; or excel in growth rate or the production of eggs, meat, milk, wool, or mohair. The natural efficiency of an animal to use nutrients in its feed could affect the nutrients in the manure and thus affect the environment.

Is it nature or nurture?”—the age-old question for geneticists—has largely been answered with an ambiguous YES! Understanding the interaction of genes and environment is important for animal health, growth, productivity, and well-being. NIFA supports work that will identify and maintain economically profitable animal genotypes (and genes), as well as projects integrating new knowledge of genotype with real farm production and environmental factors that affect animal production.

Animal Health: Animal disease is one of the greatest threats to animal agriculture. Recent experiences with avian influenza, exotic Newcastle disease, and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE or mad cow disease) in the U.S., and foot and mouth disease and BSE in other countries, highlight the effects of disease on food supply, human health and national economies. NIFA’ unique role in the fight against animal disease includes its ability to support its partners with funds to conduct small-scale research needed to:

  • Respond to disease.
  • Support the best science through competitive peer review and larger awards.
  • Stimulate interstate cooperation for targeted animal disease issues through multi-state committees and multi-million dollar Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP) competitive awards.
  • Focus funds on targeted diseases and national programs of state and regional importance.
  • Facilitate the dissemination of animal health information.

Animal Nutrition and Growth
: Inefficient nutrient intake by animals is financially and environmentally costly in animal operations from livestock farms to fish farms. It not only hurts animal growth, health, and well-being, but it may also affect the safety and quality of the food products. It may result in excess nutrients polluting the environment in the form of odors or ground water contamination. The primary objective of the Animal Growth and Nutrition Program is to discover the nutritional, biological, and genetic factors underlying:

  • Normal animal growth.
  • Nutrient digestion and efficiency.
  • Metabolism.
  • Lactation.
  • Muscle and bone development.

A program goal is to discover how biological factors affect animal products, the animal operation, and the environment. NIFA provides national program leadership and funding opportunities to conduct basic, applied, and integrated research into:

  • Improving animal nutrient efficiency, growth, food product quality and safety.
  • Reducing the impact of animal operations on the environment.
  • Educating future livestock producers and professionals.
  • Transferring research-based management practices to livestock producers through extension and outreach efforts.

Animal Products
: Americans buy approximately $100 billion of animal products at the farm gate, and several times that amount at retail each year. These products include meat and meat products, poultry products (meat and eggs), fish, shellfish, dairy products (milk and cheese), and non-food products such as fiber (wool, mohair, cashmere, and leather).

The quality and safety of animal products prior to harvest are influenced by genetics, nutrition, and management systems. After harvest they are affected by handling, processing, storage, and marketing practices. NIFA funds research, education, and extension activities related to animal products including work in:

  • Growth and development.
  • Food science and technology.
  • Food safety.
  • Processing.
  • Marketing.
  • Value-added products.
  • Animal health.
  • Human diet and health.

Animal Reproduction
: Reproductive efficiency is the major factor affecting profitability in many livestock production systems. For example, the fertility of domestic ruminants (cattle and sheep), even under optimal conditions, is only about 50 percent. Inefficient reproduction may be caused by numerous factors, including:

  • Increased genetic selection for meat or milk production traits.
  • Early embryonic and fetal loss.
  • Failure to reach puberty at an optimum age or an inability of young females to conceive early in the breeding season.
  • Environmental stressors such as temperature extremes or changes in photoperiod (day and night cycle).
  • Production of sperm with a low potential for fertilization.
  • Limited sex drive.

NIFA provides national program leadership and funding opportunities to conduct basic and applied research to control animal reproductive efficiency, educate future livestock and poultry producers and professionals, and transfer research-based management practices to livestock and poultry producers through extension and outreach efforts.

Animal Well-being: Evaluating farm animal well-being is a challenge to the animal food industry and scientific communities. Scientists study how to accurately measure an animal’s state of comfort and well-being. For example, scientists study animals in different environmental conditions that vary in temperature, humidity, amount of daylight, bedding, size and shape of living quarters, and the number of other animals in the environment. They also work to understand how animals react both behaviorally and biologically in stressful situations, such as in transport, or when animals must be restrained, such as during a medical evaluation or treatment. These understandings are important to those who work with animals as pets, livestock, or wildlife to ensure the safety and well-being of both animals and humans as they interact.

NIFA national program leaders facilitate communication among industry, federal representatives, and animal welfare organizations through stakeholder input, conferences, and committees to identify the most critical animal welfare and related issues that need NIFA research support.

NIFA interacts with scientists, industry, producers, animal welfare organizations, and animal activists in addressing animal well-being issues to enhance the food animal industry by improving farm animal health and overall living, transport and harvest environments. NIFA coordinates solutions to animal health, production, well-being, and biosecurity issues. Working with land-grant university researchers and the animal food industry, this work is essential in providing abundant, safe, nutritious, and affordable food in a way that reflects respect for animals and nature.

Aquaculture: Aquaculture is the rearing of fish and other aquatic animals for food. In cooperation with our Land-Grant University System partners and diverse stakeholders, the NIFA National Aquaculture Program provides leadership for aquaculture research, technology development, and extension educational programs that encourage and support the progressive development in the U.S. aquaculture industry.

The current NIFA aquaculture research and extension base is highly diverse in terms of funding mechanisms, areas of research, and species cultured. NIFA also provides leadership, on behalf of the Secretary of Agriculture, to facilitate the coordination of all federal programs in aquaculture through the National Science and Technology Council's (NSTC) Joint Subcommittee on Aquaculture.