Lab studies animal welfare | Cattle


University of Wisconsin

The University of Wisconsin’s Animal Welfare Laboratory on the River Falls campus recently received a $210,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture to continue research started by two recent graduates. The graduates – Karly Anderson and Elizabeth Ries – had begun research in 2019 regarding the humane euthanasia of animals.

“The research we conduct is designed to avoid causing discomfort to animals as much as possible,” said Kurt Vogel, associate professor of farm animal welfare and head of the Animal Welfare Laboratory. “It’s not only more humane for the animals, it’s also better for the people who conduct and later use the research from a mental health perspective. How we treat the animals that benefit us affects how we see and treat each other.

Established in 2012, the lab is a hub for undergraduate research, teaching demonstrations, and animal welfare judging and assessment. It was created with a grant from Oscar Mayer, part of the Kraft Heinz company.

The recent USDA grant is part of the Agricultural Animal Welfare and Welfare Program of the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The program supports assessments of current animal production practices and the development of new or improved management approaches aimed at protecting animal welfare while maintaining or improving production efficiency.

The USDA will help expand the original research line at UW-River Falls, which received initial support from the National Pork Board. The lab’s mission is to prepare the next generation of animal caretakers and welfare scientists to care for animal resources in an ethical and sustainable way. It is also intended to conduct applied research on animal welfare and behavior that can be easily transferred to use in the field.

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“One of our goals is to conduct research that is suitable for publication in peer-reviewed scientific journals and to have students’ names on those publications,” Vogel said. “It helps students when applying to graduate or veterinary schools. We try to see ourselves as a pre-college program. Students have some of the opportunities and experiences they would receive from a master’s program at a major research university. This eases the transition to the next stage of their education and allows them to get started quickly.

Anderson earned her degree in animal science. She is a graduate research assistant and doctoral student at the University of Nebraska-Department of Animal Sciences and affiliated with the Animal Welfare Laboratory at UW-River Falls. She conducted her master’s program in cooperation with the University of Minnesota-College of Veterinary Medicine and UW-River Falls. She and Ries began researching the thickness and brain characteristics of pig heads to determine the best locations to place captive bolts for euthanasia.

“So far, we have found that frontal placement presents the lowest risk of failed euthanasia attempts for market pigs compared to behind-the-ear placement, and compared to temporal and behind-the-ear placements. ear for mature breeding pigs,” Anderson said. “Ultimately, the work will help positively influence the animal agriculture industry by applying science to guide decisions and management practices.”

Ries graduated in 2020 with a degree in animal science. She is a third-year veterinary medicine student at the UW-School of Veterinary Medicine.

“I was raised on a pig farm and had a lot of experience in the pig industry, so being able to conduct a research project that would benefit the industry was a great opportunity,” Ries said. “I am interested in becoming a large animal veterinarian with an interest in swine, so the research project was a great topic for my future career.

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