Innovation in Animal Sciences

The meat science faculty and students are an integral part of the Center for Meat Safety & Quality at CSU. The group focuses on implementing technologies to improve meat quality and safety. In terms of quality, the group continues to be at the forefront of innovative meat quality research. Recent emphasis has been placed on identifying economic and palatability advantages of new beef carcass fabrication techniques and developing a novel mass spectrometry method to objectively characterize and predict beef and lamb palatability. Moreover, the center recently played a vital role in completing the 2016 National Beef Quality Audit. Meat safety research provides regulatory food safety support to the meat industry. The research is helping the industry solve current issues related to pathogen control, such as providing hands-on assistance conducting plant validations to support food safety programs. In addition, the center is continuing to develop novel intervention strategies and research technologies in order to improve public health using technologies such as electrostatics, next-generation sequencing, and CRISPR-CAS9 to reduce foodborne illness and severity.

The Livestock Behavior and Welfare group at Colorado State University, led by Drs. Grandin and Edwards-Callaway, is ever-growing. Currently there are six graduate students in the program all working on different aspects of improving animal welfare. Many of the past and current projects within the group have explored how currently used technologies can be adjusted and adapted to meet the growing demands for upholding the rigorous expectations of animal welfare within the industry. For example, making adjustments to processing equipment at the packing facilities to ensure proper stunning, assessing current trailer design to understand how it impacts cattle well-being and subsequent meat quality, and different uses of technology to monitor and verify animal welfare management practices and protocols. Technology and innovation provide an opportunity to collect quantitative information about animal behavior that takes away any impact of the human observer. The Livestock Behavior and Welfare group will continue to implement the use of different data capturing technologies (e.g. Go-Pros, accelerometers, GPS trackers, heart rate monitors and rumen recorders) to their research to remain on the cutting edge of animal behavior and welfare assessment.

The gastrointestinal (GI) tract is the main location of interaction between a horse and the environment. Diet and the GI microbiome (the bacterial communities occupying the various compartments of the GI) help to define these interactions and both have significant impacts on diverse aspects of equine physiology. Kailee Reed and Dr. Stephen Coleman are using functional genomic strategies and next-generation sequencing to understand the regulatory mechanisms used by the horse to manage interactions with the environment. The goal of their projects is to profile gene expression along the GI tract and identify modifications in response to changing environmental stimuli. Of particular interest are the differential expression patterns of microRNA transcripts. MicroRNAs are important regulators of protein-coding gene expression and can act to regulate the community composition of the GI microbiome. Developing an understanding of how microRNAs function and how they may control microbial communities will provide new insights into digestive physiology, and can potentially provide non-invasive biomarkers for monitoring gastrointestinal health and disease in horses and other livestock.

Using resources more efficiently in livestock production systems is a focal point of our laboratory. Terry Engle and his Ph.D. student Sam Jalali, in conjunction with Dr. Jim Ippolito from the Department of Soils and Crop Sciences, are currently working on methods of recycling nutrients from waste streams in livestock production systems. They have developed a laboratory scale system to remove metals (e.g., copper) from waste streams and convert the metals back into their parent form for reuse. Sam is currently in the process of scaling up this system to test it in commercial livestock operations. Future research will include techniques for recycling other nutrients.

A racehorse with an eagle eye will have the heart of a champion. A show horse with fluted ears will be expressive. A gelding with a moose nose will be friendly and make a great kids horse. Such antiquated adages relating physical traits of the face to dimensions of innate personality abound in the modern horse industry, and can be traced back from the cowboys of the Wild West, to the gypsy bands of Eastern Europe, all the way back to the earliest breeding books of the ancient Bedouin. While subjective visual assessments of such traits by horse trainers and traders have long been regarded as little more than wishful thinking, a dynamic marriage of modern machine vision and data analytics algorithms may bring the objectivity needed to realize the full predictive power of these old wives tails. An ongoing project in the Pinedo lab seeks to validate a new approach to image analysis that allows custom computer algorithms to extract detailed biometric information about the facial traits of any livestock species from standard quality 2D images, and then seeks to map these quantitative measures of facial structure to key production traits impacted by an animal’s unique personality. Exploratory results from data web-scrubbed form accelerated genetics 2016 bull catalogue have revealed facial biometrics to be predictive of the genetic breeding values of elite dairy sires. One ongoing project, conducted in collaboration with Aurora Organic, is exploring the interactions between facial biometrics and environmental variables to predict the individual susceptibilities of organic dairy cows to common production and reproductive maladies. Another is using a data set developed in collaboration with North Florida Holsteins to explore if pedigree information, augmented with facial biometric data, can effectively approximate genomic breeding values of milking cows for health, fertility, and performance traits.

An Innovative Beef Production System: All Heifer, No Cow

Exposure to volatile markets and perpetual variance in climatic conditions (i.e. drought) makes efficiency increasingly difficult for cow-calf producers to achieve, facilitating the need to evaluate alternative production methods. Researchers at Colorado State University are evaluating an innovative system—The All Heifer, No Cow (AHNC) system. AHNC is a unique production system where beef is produced without mature cows. Heifers are bred and calve at two years of age. The system utilizes sexed semen, so each heifer replaces herself with a heifer. Calves are early weaned at 90 days old. Then, the calves’ mothers are transitioned to a finishing ration and harvested for beef before reaching 30 months of age. As production efficiency becomes increasingly important in the beef industry, the AHNC system seeks to make more efficient use of feed resources. All the cattle in the enterprise are growing, so nutrients are utilized more efficiently. More specifically, when compared to conventional systems, it is estimated that the AHNC system can produce an equal amount of beef with 30% less feed and 30% fewer methane emissions. The AHNC system has the potential to make a large impact on the sustainability (i.e. economically viable, environmentally sound, and socially acceptable) of the US beef production system.

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