Animal Health and Welfare

Animal health and welfare are crucial building blocks for successful farm operations and a safe, high-quality, and abundant food supply. The Department of Animal Science conducts research projects to improve the health and welfare of beef and dairy cattle, sheep and goats, horses, and poultry. Disease prevention has been a main focus of our research programs. Some research strategies rely on animal behavior or farm management impacts on prevention. Other research focuses on virulence factors of disease-causing pathogens, treatment, and intervention. Additional research focuses on developing vaccines and a better understanding of the immune function and biological responses to disease. For information on individual research expertise, click on the faculty links below to find out more.

Genetics and Genomics

All living organisms have a genetic blueprint containing the information responsible for making the molecules that perform the many biological processes that take place within an organism. This genetic blueprint is called the “genome.” In many livestock species, the genome is composed of approximately 3 billion DNA base pairs encoding roughly 25,000 genes. The field of genetics aims to understand the function each gene plays in these biological processes and how its function may influence the observed traits and characteristics of an animal. Additionally, genetics aims to understand how variation in the DNA sequence of each gene may affect its function, how these changes in function influence observed traits or characteristics, and the inheritance of these traits. In comparison, the field of genomics recognizes the dynamic nature of the genome. Genomics aims to understand the complex interrelationships between genes, gene functions, and how an organism’s genome is capable of responding to the environment.

Nutrition Physiology

Nutrition is a vast toolkit that can be used to optimize animal growth, development, and well-being. Research in the Nutritional Physiology Group within the Department of Animal science focuses on nutritional strategies that benefit production of a variety of animal species, including beef and dairy cattle, horses, and poultry. Genomics, biochemistry, and molecular biology are integrated with whole animal physiology and on-farm studies to address a range of nutrition research questions using modern, interdisciplinary approaches. Challenges currently addressed by this research group include the following:

  • Optimizing diet to enhance growth and efficiency
  • Enhancing animal health and well-being
  • Integrating grazing management and nutrient supplementation with forage availability and quality
  • Reducing the environmental impacts of animal production systems
  • Elucidating molecular pathways that control cellular growth and development

For information on individual research expertise, please click on the faculty links below to find out more.

Reproductive Physiology

Sustainability of farm animal production is directly dependent on animals producing live offspring in an efficient manner. Infertility-reproductive inefficiency carries significant economic consequences to all domestic livestock industries. Therefore, gaining an understanding of factors contributing to infertility is of critical importance to maximize reproductive efficiency of domestic livestock species. Research interests of our group include efforts to improve estrous synchronization and timed insemination outcomes, determine transmission and occurrence of reproductive diseases, unravel some of the mysteries related to fetal-maternal communication, identify the mechanisms of and alleviating environmental and endogenous factors that negatively impact embryonic survival, and  improve methods for in vitro embryo production and animal cloning. Our faculty, staff, graduate, and undergraduate students work together to provide a multifaceted approach to research reproductive problems at the whole animal, cellular, and molecular level. For more information on individual faculty members’ research, please visit their webpage.