Principle Investigators: Drs. Suzanne Millman, Grant Dewell, Renee Dewell
This project was developed in collaboration with a commercial beef feedyard, with the goals of enhancing sustainability and minimizing ecological footprint in beef production. Commingling of calves from different sources presents biological and behavioral stressors, and is associated with increased risk for Bovine Respiratory Disease. Social buffering refers to the phenomenon of enhanced recovery from distress in the presence of a conspecific, with a known neuroendocrine mechanism. We are exploring preferential relationships among beef feeder cattle, and impacts of social buffering on animal welfare, health and performance outcomes. In Objective 1, we examined social dynamics of pasture-reared beef calves associated with weaning and changes in health status. In summer 2021, we will examine impacts of social buffering on behavior, health and performance of comingled lightweight cattle on a commercial feedlot. “Familiar” calves, sourced as groups from the same farm, and “Solitary” calves sourced singly from farms, will be followed through the feeding period, and health, performance and behavior outcomes compared to evaluate effects of social buffering in commercial conditions. Results from this project will provide needed guidance on commingling practices in U.S. beef operations. The student working on this project will primarily assist with animal handling, blood draws, behavior observations, data management, and contribute to scholarly works through literature review and technical writing. The ideal candidate is familiar with or strongly interested in animal welfare/behavior research, familiar with or strongly interested in beef production medicine, curious,accurate and precise, and organized. We will have some long hot days in feedyard/farm conditions, so enthusiasm and ability to work independently and collaboratively in a team structure are valued.