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Research, Education and Extension Efforts Improve Livestock Health

Nifa Authors
Margaret Lawrence, Writer-Editor

Animal agriculture comprises a large portion of U.S. agriculture. Livestock, including poultry, comprise about 48 percent of all U.S. agricultural value according to the 2022 Census of Agriculture. In 2022, livestock value totaled $262 billion, up 35% from 2017.

USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture has a large livestock program portfolio. It covers beef cattle, dairy cattle, poultry, swine, aquaculture, sheep, goats and horses. Supported by these programs, Land-grant universities provide critical assistance to the nation’s livestock producers searching for strategies to protect animal health and enhance productivity and profitability. 

Recent NIFA Supported Land-grant University Livestock Programs

  • When highly pathogenic avian influenza threatened domestic poultry in Oregon, Extension responded rapidly with public outreach on biosecurity measures to help prevent the spread of this deadly disease in backyard flocks and poultry raised by 4-H’ers. The project at Oregon State University is supported by state appropriations and Smith-Lever(3b&c) funds. 
  • An Extension team provides research-based information and resources to boost the health, production and profits of South Dakota dairies. Extension is also teaching dairy science students about the National Dairy FARM Animal Care program and animal handling. The South Dakota State University project is supported by Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds.
  • The University of Vermont Extension’s Center for Sustainable Agriculture and the Northeast Dairy Business Innovation Center hosted a workshop to help commercial sheep and goat producers (dairy, meat and fiber) develop individualized herd health protocols for their farms. The University of Vermont project is supported by USDA competitive and Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds.
  • University of Georgia researchers have used an artificial intelligence learning-based imaging system to automatically monitor chicken pecking behavior. Severe pecking has been estimated to occur in 40% to 50% of cage-free flocks and is one of the primary reasons for increased mortality. This technology provides early detection of pecking behaviors, helping producers identify the cause and prevent further spread. The University of Georgia project is supported by Hatch funds as well as USDA Competitive funds. 
  • In Alabama, Auburn University researchers are investigating how integrating alfalfa into bermudagrass grazing systems can extend the annual forage production season. Their results show that stockpiling alfalfa-bermudagrass mixtures may be a viable system to provide high quality feed and extend the grazing season for Alabama farmers into the fall and winter. The project at Auburn University is supported by Hatch funds. 
  • Wyoming cattle producers can struggle to develop balanced rations for their livestock because of the challenges of sourcing feeds and the state’s harsh winters. Hay is the primary winter feed source, and missing key nutrients can jeopardize livestock production throughout the year. University of Wyoming Extension programs are helping cattle producers improve herd nutrition and optimize herd health and performance. In particular, hay sampling techniques and ration calculation tools are helping ensure cattle operations’ sustainability and resilience. The University of Wyoming project is supported by Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds.
  • In New Mexico, the Southern Regional Livestock School has worked with close to 250 youth in five southwest counties to promote education for youths and families seeking knowledge-based skills to enhance livestock production projects. About 90% of participants said the course material covered by instructors was extremely to moderately useful in improving their understanding of overall animal care and preparation. The project at New Mexico State University is supported by Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds. 
  • In Wisconsin, Extension program is helping livestock producers increase their understanding of biosecurity best practices, specifically cleaning and disinfection techniques and lines of separation for both livestock and visitors. This ensures the health of livestock and allows them to grow efficiently. Additionally, these efforts will improve disease security and reduce disease spread at public events such as county livestock fairs. The University of Wisconsin project is supported by Smith-Lever (3b&c) funds and state appropriations. 
  • In Ohio, researchers investigated different fatty acid feed supplements to understand their effects on performance in lactating dairy cows and found that those containing mainly palmitic acid might be more appropriate than those containing mainly stearic acid. The information can be immediately applied to commercial dairy farms. The Ohio State University project is supported by Hatch funds. 
Farm Bill Priority Areas
Animal health and production and animal products
U.S. States and Territories
New Mexico
South Dakota

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