AFRI in ACTION: Preventing Heat Stress

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Preventing Heat StressThinking about heat stress doesn’t come naturally to Lance Baumgard. He grew up and went to college in Minnesota, and then received his PhD in Animal Science from Cornell University in upstate New York. But his first faculty position was in the desert at the University of Arizona, and it led Lance to focus his career on helping livestock producers keep their animals healthy even in the most extreme of conditions. “Heat stress is an issue that we’ve always dealt with from an agricultural engineering perspective, but we’re at the point now where facility modifications can no longer keep up with the conditions,” said Dr. Baumgard. In the U.S., farmers lose $1.2 billion in animal productivity every year. About half that loss comes from reduced growth, and about half comes from impacts in reproduction. Dr. Baumgard has spent the past few years at Iowa State University examining the impacts of heat stress on pork production thanks to a $2.5 million grant from the US Department of Agriculture’s Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI). Baumgard and his grant partners at Iowa State, the University of Missouri, and Virginia Tech are identifying the fundamental mechanics of heat stress in pigs. The researchers have found that the health of the intestines is one of the key reasons for reduced productivity during the summer. The poor intestinal health reduces nutrient absorption and can overstimulate the immune system. Baumgard’s research suggested that a feed supplement to boost intestinal health could be an effective strategy to improve summer productivity, as opposed to adjusting the pig’s diet or using vitamins to provide more nutrients.

“Heat stress is one of the biggest hurdles to efficient, profitable operations. This research will have a big economic impact in the U.S. But in places like Africa and Southeast Asia, it directly translates into keeping families from going hungry.” – Dr. Lance Baumgard

Baumgard notes that most pigs are bred all year long in facilities that lack air conditioning. Instead, fans are used to circulate the air. In his next phase of research, he will explore whether additional steps to cool down the animals for a few crucial days—such as cool soaks or cold water sprays—can similarly make an impact. The AFRI grant allowed Baumgard and his team to better define the problem so that additional work can pinpoint cost-effective solutions. The program is one of the few that he can tap for such general work. “Someone needs to fund the research that we’ll need 15 years from now,” he noted.

Photo: Morgan Lieberman (University of Missouri)