Animal Production Systems
A Balancing Act
A high priority among cattle producers is to ensure that livestock are comfortable; however, a cow’s inability to shed at the proper time may impact production performance. MAFES researcher, Dr. Trent Smith, recently discovered that cows that shed earlier in the season wean heavier calves. Read More
A soldier in the fight
The black soldier fly, which turns agricultural waste into viable protein that can be used in feed for livestock such as chickens, may help fight food insecurity. John Schneider, Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and professor of entomology in the Department of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, Entomology and Plant Pathology, is evaluating how to integrate the insect into food production systems. According to Schneider, studies indicate that the insect is a high quality food source with no side effects. He hopes the research will help close the ecological loop, providing an efficient way to reduce agricultural waste and produce livestock feed. Read More
An Ample Diet
Pork, the most consumed meat in the world, is one of the most economical sources of animal protein for human consumption. Dr. Shengfa Liao, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, grew up in a remote village in China when and where pork was a rare treat. As an Experiment Station researcher, he focuses on finding ways to enhance pork production by increasing feed efficiency for producers and improving animal welfare at the same time. Read More
McDonald's, Wendy's, and Walmart are just a few of the hundreds of corporations who have vowed to switch to cage-free eggs in the not-so-distant future. Because of the growing consumer demand, approximately 70 percent of the nation’s 320 million birds need to be cage-free by 2026. To help with this major industry shift from conventional-caged to cage-free environments, MAFES scientists hope to automate egg collection for those producers looking to make the change. Dr. Yang Zhao, assistant professor in Agricultural and Biological Engineering and MAFES scientist, is leading a team of scientists to automate egg collection in the cage-free production system to help resolve the increased labor need in egg production. "We are building a robotic car to gather eggs from the floor of the cage-free chicken house and to also train chickens not to lay eggs on the poultry floor," Zhao said. Alongside this project, there is a study which evaluates the robot performance regarding floor egg reduction in early-peak laying stage, which is a critical period for training good laying habits. A component of the study is to determine if the autonomous car will stress the chickens. Dr. Wei Zhai, assistant professor in poultry science, will measure stressors in a sample of the study hens. The overarching goal is to help those egg producers who transit to cage-free production systems. Read more
Balanced Cows, Better Beef
The personality of livestock may seem secondary to productiveness, but research shows that the two may be connected. Cow temperament is correlated with how much money the cow brings in and how frequently it gets sick. Poor-tempered cattle are also known to produce less marbling and tougher beef. In an on-going study at the Brown Loam Research Station, researchers have studied the link between a cow’s temperament and performance. Dr. Rhonda Vann, research professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences and the Experiment Station, pioneered work on this front. Read More
Distillers' Grains as a Feed Supplement
Increased ethanol production also means increased stocks of the by-product distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS), as well as increased interest in finding uses for the nutrient-rich grains. A MAFES study evaluated second-cycle Bovans White laying hens that were fed varying amounts of DDGS. Researchers looked at layer performance, egg characteristics and consumer acceptability. Results showed that DDGS could comprise up to one-third of a commercial layer diet without any significant detrimental effects on the production or egg characteristics of second-cycle hens. A similar study measured breast and thigh meat quality in broilers fed DDGS-supplemented diets. Overall, the diets yielded high-quality breast meat, and thigh meat quality was similar among diets containing up to 12 percent DDGS.
Down the Line
730 million broilers were raised on Mississippi farms in 2015. MAFES researchers hope to discover more efficient, cost-effective ways to deliver feed to so many birds. That’s why Dr. Kelley Wamsley, MAFES researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Poultry Science, is studying how feed mill mechanics affect feed quality. Former MSU graduate student Ben Sellers conducted much of the research and Chris McDaniel, professor in the Department of Poultry Science, assisted on the projects. Read More
Feeding on Fescue
Kentucky 31, a popular forage, is chosen for its drought tolerance and adaptability across climates; however, it has an unwanted host, an endophyte or fungus that lives inside the plant. This endophyte causes problems in beef cattle due to toxic chemicals found in the seed. The toxicity can restrict the cow's flow of blood to extremities, causing gangrene to occur in the foot and/or tail during the winter. During the summer, constricted blood flow to the surface of the animal interferes with its ability to regulate temperature, causing heat stress. "Our hypothesis was that if the animal is stressed from consuming endophyte-infected tall fescue, then the meat quality is going to be lower and the shelf life will be shorter," said Dr. Thu Dinh, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences and MAFES scientist. After testing the hypothesis, they found very little difference in the control group and the treatment group on lean color attributes and total bacterial count. Steaks from the treated steers did have a greater amount of oxymyoglobin, the compound that gives beef its bright red color. This indicates the muscle in endophyte-infected animals may have developed a protective mechanism against the toxicity. Read more
Finding the right diet for broilers
Poultry scientist Kelley Wamsley studies the nutritional content and manufacturing processes of poultry pellet feed. Since feed and feed manufacture represent about 60–70 percent of the total cost of raising a chicken, one small change could affect cost and performance. Wamsley’s research indicates that high-quality pellets are worth the price, especially for Mississippi poultry integrators who grow heavy broilers. These birds require a longer grow-out period, thus consume more feed. Research showed that poor-quality pellets result in poor performance. Pellet quality can deteriorate during transportation and as feed is distributed through grow-out houses, causing nutrients in the feed to segregate. High-quality pellets are more likely to stay intact and deliver a nutritionally complete diet. Wamsley also studies how alternative feed ingredients affect pellet manufacture and bird performance. As costs increase for corn, soybean meal, and other feed ingredients, there is a great need for high-quality, less-expensive alternative ingredients. Read More
Giving chicken hatchlings a boost
Chicken embryos are made up of water, protein, and fat. To get the energy they need to hatch, embryos must convert that protein and fat into carbohydrates. To help hatchlings retain protein and fat for growth, poultry scientist Wei Zhai is developing a procedure for injecting eggs with carbohydrates before they hatch. Zhai uses a commercial multi-egg injector to deliver uniform amounts of carbohydrates into each egg. Mississippi State is the only academic institution in North America to own this machine, which was donated by the pharmaceutical company Intelliject. Research indicates that injecting carbohydrates into eggs leads to good hatching and provides an early boost in body weight. MAFES scientists are now working to determine the most efficient amount of carbohydrates to inject into eggs. Other studies focus on whether injecting vitamins into eggs will help bone growth in chickens. Another benefit of injecting nutrients and vaccinations into eggs is that it alleviates bird stress by reducing the amount of handling they face after hatching. Read More
Go with the Flow
Two MAFES scientists, Dr. Caleb Lemley and Dr. Derris Devost-Burnett, are leading a team of researchers who are using biophotonics to study how maternal nutrient restriction affects calves. Lemley, an animal and dairy science assistant professor, focuses on the mother while Burnett focuses on the calves. The researchers evaluated the placentas, fetuses, and offspring of Angus and Brahman heifers sired by a Hereford bull. The team evaluated the placenta because it connects the mother to the fetus, studying how blood flow, in particular, can impact how nutrients the mother intakes reach the fetus. They sought to learn how maternal nutrient restriction affected the placenta's development. Lemley said understanding alterations of placental development during pregnancy will help producers to maximize fetal development in-utero, possibly decreasing the instances of calf morbidity and mortality. Burnett said, "While Lemley focuses on the maternal environment itself, I evaluate how that environment affects the growth of muscle and fat in the offspring." Thus far, the researchers have observed birth weight reduction and the development of less muscle fibers in offspring that were nutrient-restricted in-utero. Burnett said, "We hope research like this allows us to provide producers with data-based information that helps move the industry forward." Read more
As consumer interests for forage-finished beef increases in the U.S., Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station scientists, Wes Schilling and Byron Williams, are studying different forages and the effects on beef quality and taste. Scientists conducted one study in the Experiment Station’s Prairie Research Unit, examining the quality of beef foraged on native grasses and bermudagrass. In a separate study, scientists compared grain-finished and forage-finished cattle. In both studies, researchers found that native warm-season grasses are acceptable forage for beef cattle during the stocker phase, producing a lean, high protein product with positive consumer acceptability. Read More
Healthy Mom, Happy Calf
Melatonin is a hormone our body naturally produces. Melatonin as a supplement is considered an antioxidant. While many people may take melatonin for a good night’s rest, researchers in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station are evaluating how melatonin supplements might help pregnant Holstein heifers give birth to healthier calves. Dr. Caleb Lemley, assistant professor in the Department of Animal and Dairy Sciences, along with two graduate and two undergraduate researchers, studied how melatonin supplementation affected blood flow between dam and calf during gestation. Read More
Identifying Destructive Invaders
Exotic insect species enter the United States through multiple routes, such as on wood shipping pallets, plant materials, and imported fruits and vegetables. The U.S. government sets trade restrictions to help prevent the introduction of nonnative pests, and its inspectors work at all borders to search for and confiscate materials carrying these insects. Some hidden pests do make it past inspection and move into U.S. crops. Once established, these pests can damage crops and native plant species, ultimately causing severe economic damage. Quick identification of invasive species is crucial to stopping their spread. The Mississippi Entomological Museum was recently designated as the Eastern Region Identification Center for the USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Increasing Fertility in Farm Animals
Fertility is the most essential factor controlling animal reproduction. Obtaining viable offspring depends on the ability of quality sperm and egg to generate a developmentally competent embryo. MAFES scientists identified biomolecular markers and mechanisms for determining the quality of sperm, eggs and embryos. Research results provided scientists with the molecular markers to predict semen and embryo quality.
Luminating Infections in Pregnant Mares
Infections are the leading cause of abortion, stillbirth and preterm delivery in mares. MAFES scientists have developed a new approach to understanding the infection process in pregnant mares by using biophotonic imaging and modified bacteria with luminescent characteristics. In other words, the technique allows researchers to capture real-time pictures of glowing bacteria as they spread through a mare’s body. The method allows scientists to track pathogens in a minimally invasive procedure.
MAFES Scientists Develop New Processing Technique
Technocatch, a poultry processing research company, recently teamed with processing company OK Foods and MAFES to develop an alternative to electric stunning and gas systems for processing chickens for consumption.
The new method, called LAPS (low-atmospheric pressure system), uses a vacuum system to reduce oxygen levels in a machine that can house up to 60 broilers per chamber. LAPS eventually renders the birds unconscious and then — borrowing a term coined by the USDA — "irreversibly stunned."
Initial testing for LAPS began in the Mississippi State poultry laboratory. LAPS received the American Humane Association (AHA) seal of approval, and the USDA officially stated it has "no objections to the system or its protocol." LAPS provides a humane method of processing poultry compared with the current methods employed.
Making artificial insemination of cows more effective
Animal scientist Jamie Larson, who specializes in cattle reproductive physiology, works with beef and dairy cattle to make artificial insemination more effective. Larson is experimenting with hormone treatments to determine if cows’ estrous cycles can be more closely synchronized, allowing them to be bred at about the same time. Cattle production would be more efficient if calves are about the same age and size. Scientists perform repetitive ultrasound at the Beef Unit to determine the effectiveness of their hormone protocol. Larson also works with fellow reproductive physiologist Caleb Lemley at the Bearden Dairy Research Center, monitoring cows to determine whether conditions in early gestation affect the health and future performance of calves. Researchers monitor cows 90 days before they give birth and follow the calves throughout their lives. Their goal is to identify ways to improve conditions in the womb to ultimately enhance calf health.
MSU researches poultry health, growth
MAFES researchers are investigating ways to improve the nutrition and growth of the state’s most profitable bird. One of the current projects is helping determine ways to increase the hatchability and health of broilers. Injecting eggs, also known as in ovo injection, is used to vaccinate poultry for diseases, but MSU researchers are finding a new way to use the procedure.
Chicken embryos are made up of water, protein and fat. To get the energy they need to hatch, they have to convert that protein and fat into carbohydrates. So that the hatchlings can reserve their fat and protein for needed growth, scientists are injecting eggs with carbohydrates before they hatch.
Thus far, the research indicates that in ovo injection of carbohydrates can provide benefits to commercially grown poultry with an earlier increase in body weight and good hatching. Scientists are also experimenting with injection of vitamil supplements. Read More
Protecting the Herd
As a molecular biologist, Dr. Florencia Meyer, a scientist in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station, hopes to unlock molecular secrets about the microbes that contribute to the cause of bovine respiratory disease. Bovine respiratory disease, or BRD, costs the cattle industry an estimated one billion dollars annually. The disease is usually caused by a combination of factors including stress, a viral infection, and bacteria present in the animal. Vaccines are used to prevent the disease and treatment options include antibiotics and stress management. Despite these options, however, BRD remains the number one health problem for the cattle industry, causing widespread illness, death, and production losses. While Meyer is currently studying three microbes at once, two of her recent publications centered on foundational research she has conducted on BoHV-1 alone. Most recently, the team ascribed a potential new gene for BoHV-1. "The project's findings will provide valuable information for the development of novel vaccine or pharmaceutical formulations that can help reduce the incidence of BRD and promote animal health, thus helping to ensure the safety and sustainability of the U.S. beef industry," she said. While the search for more answers continues, Meyer's research seeks to help establish better understanding of the multiple factors that affect this disease. Read more
Q&A with David Peebles
Poultry was a $3.2 billion dollar business in Mississippi in 2015. MAFES scientists conduct research that drives that industry forward. One such researcher is Dr. David Peebles. He's a MAFES scientist and professor in the Department of Poultry Science in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He's called Mississippi State home for 28 years. Much of his research has been applied directly to the poultry industry while all of his students gain employment in their field of study. MAFES Discovers sat down with Peebles to discuss how his research role helps inform the poultry industry and discover how his academic appointment helps grow the poultry leaders of tomorrow. Read More
Researchers Make 'Elusieve' Dreams Happen
Ground corn flour, soybean meal and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) — a by-product from ethanol production — comprise more than 70 percent of swine and poultry diets. While these ingredients are important for livestock nutrition, they are high in fiber, which is not easily digested by swine and poultry. Feed producers needed a system to remove the fiber while maintaining vital nutrients. MAFES scientists developed a process called "Elusieve" that uses a combination of sieving and air classification to separate fiber from feeds. This technique sifts particles into four sizes and then blows them with air to remove fiber. They found that fiber separation increases starch content of ground corn flour by 3 percent and increases protein contents of DDGS and soybean meal. Read More
Safer Horse Transportation
There has been little research to measure the heat conditions in horse trailers during transport. MAFES scientists recently measured several temperature variables in a fully enclosed four-horse, ant-load trailer with and without animals. Scientists found that trailer temperatures during transport exceeded those recommended for animal housing, although the thermal environment was affected by vehicle speed, vent configuration and presence of animals. They found that temperature increased significantly in transport during relatively mild weather, which indicates that horses could suffer from heat stress during warmer weather. These results show the importance of closely monitoring heat conditions in trailers used to transport horses.
Seal the Housing Envelope
Poultry is big business in Mississippi. In 2016, the state’s broiler production value totaled $2.23 billion dollars. A researcher in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station and an engineering specialist in the MSU Extension Service are studying ways to optimize energy efficiency in poultry houses to reduce producer inputs and increase their bottom lines. Energy expenditures account for about 60 percent of the input costs for the state’s nearly 1,500 poultry producers. Heating fuel alone can hover in the 40 percent range. MAFES scientists studied energy transfer in poultry houses while extension specialists studied heaters and lighting. Each focused on ways to reduce producer inputs and increase efficiencies of the housing envelope across the life of a facility. Read More
Shades of Green
The uses of perennial warm-season grasses are as varied as the plants themselves. Applications include poultry bedding, cattle forage, conservation plantings, bioenergy, and much more. Scientists in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station have been propagating grasses as bioenergy crops since the early 2000s. Now as demand for renewable energy crops shift, MSU’s perennial grass research evolves to meet other needs. Read More
Recent technological advances in production systems have enabled catfish producers to achieve significantly higher yields through greater control by concentrating all of their efforts in a substantially smaller portion of a pond. Scientists in the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Experiment Station have been at the forefront of these advances, helping producers improve their bottom line. The development of two new technologies—split-pond system and intensively aerated ponds—helped intensify catfish management. Dr. Ganesh Kumar, MAFES assistant research professor who attributes development of split-pond technology to former MAFES scientist Dr. Craig Tucker, is now doing his part to help producers. Kumar, who has analyzed the costs of the two intensive systems, warns that the upfront investment in the adoption of split-ponds or intensively aerated pond technologies is high. Although the yields are higher, modifying catfish production to either of these two intensive systems requires structural modifications and additional equipment. However, the productivity gains, producing more fish out of a unit area, which result from these systems have led to significant adoption within the industry. Read more
MAFES scientists are helping producers in the heart of catfish country. Dr. David Wise and his staff at the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center help producers find answers. Oftentimes, the question is an aquatic health issue that's impacting productivity and performance. Researchers have discovered ways to combat catfish anemia. They've also developed a vaccine that helps wipe out a disease common in catfish ponds. The work translates to dollars and cents for producers, and contributes to the industry's vitality. Read More
Treatments to Reduce Bacteria
Poor hatchability can occur due to eggshell bacterial contamination, which can be decreased by UV light or hydrogen peroxide. However, the antimicrobial effects of these two treatments combined are not known. MAFES scientists sought to determine if a greater bacterial reduction would occur using a combination of UV and hydrogen peroxide. Results indicated that the combined treatments further reduced bacterial contamination compared with each treatment individually.
Understanding The Complexities of Reproduction
MAFES reproductive biologist Jean Feugang is trying to find out why some pregnancies are successful and others are not. Feugang, along with fellow scientists Peter Ryan and Scott Willard, are studying the reproductive stage that remains one of the most mysterious—the gap between sperm and egg development and embryo development. Specifically, the team hopes to understand what factors make one sperm successful while others fail and why some eggs take while others do not. Their research can provide invaluable insight into biological and cellular processes associated with sperm and egg behavior and interactions before early embryo development. They use nanotechnology to study reproductive issues at the most microscopic level. Using quantum dots—nanoparticles that are absorbed into sperm cells—they can track the cells’ movement along the reproductive tract. Much like putting a tiny camera into the body, this process shows researchers what is happening, when, and where in real time. The scientists are using swine for the study; however, their research has applications to all mammals, including humans. Developing noninvasive monitoring techniques for use after artificial insemination has the potential to improve breeding success rates. Using quantum-dot imaging in reproductive studies is a new approach, and MAFES scientists are laying the groundwork for future research in this area. Read More
Unlocking a path to probiotics in poultry
MAFES researchers are trying to unlock a better path for administering probiotics in poultry. Researchers hope bioluminescence will illuminate the effectiveness of a suite of probiotics administered into the egg, or in-ovo. Dr. Aaron Kiess, poultry science associate professor, along with doctoral student, Claudia Castañeda, have been studying in-ovo administration of probiotics for several years. Kiess said as consumer demand increases for ABF (antibiotic free) or NAE (no antibiotics ever) broilers, the researchers hope to help integrators and producers adopt probiotic programs to fend off the diseases antibiotics traditionally protect against. Thus far, they've been able to demonstrate that bioluminescent bacteria injected in-ovo made its way to the digestive tract of the hatchling within two hours after injection. In the short term, the team hopes to transfer a bioluminescent gene into a multitude of probiotic bacteria. "Our laboratory wants to identify new and novel strategies to help our poultry integrators with challenges they are facing when they are trying to produce antibiotic free poultry," Kiess said. "I want to make it easier for them to provide what their customers are asking for." Read more
Using a natural feed source for catfish
MAFES scientists are looking for ways to lower costs while maintaining quality in Mississippi catfish production. Charles Mischke and David Wise, MAFES aquacultural researchers at the Thad Cochran National Warmwater Aquaculture Center in Stoneville, found that catfish can thrive for the first 6 weeks after hatching by feeding on naturally occurring zooplankton. They examined the growth and survival of newly hatched catfish fry not fed specially prepared commercial feed. Compared with fry that were fed a conventional diet, these fish suffered no ill effects in size or health. Fry not fed for 6 weeks ate zooplankton and other microscopic food organisms, which are abundant in ponds and high in protein and other nutrients. Reducing or eliminating fry feedings during the first few weeks can reduce the cost of fish production, saving producers at least $236 per acre. Read More
Vaccine leads to better survival, bigger fish
MSU scientists have developed a vaccine and vaccine delivery system to protect catfish from commonly occurring bacteria that can cause death. During their first growing season, every catfish fingerling raised in the Mississippi Delta will be exposed to Edwardsiella ictaluri, the bacteria that causes enteric septicemia, or ESC. In research trials, vaccinated catfish have a relative percent survival rate above 90 percent. Vaccinated fish are also 20 percent larger than unvaccinated fish. MSU’s vaccine and delivery method were developed at the Thad Cochran Warmwater Aquaculture Center and received a provisional patent in 2013. Read more
Where the Grass is Greener
Dr. Rocky Lemus is on a mission: to help Mississippi producers become better forage managers. To accomplish his mission, he and Joshua White, manager of the MAFES Official Variety Testing program in forages, are developing a year-round grazing system. The grazing system, combined with the Official Variety Trials program in forages, and a newly developed forage testing program all work together to make Mississippians better forage managers for grazing cattle and hay production. Read More