No Down Time for Iowa State Animal Behavior Specialist

IOWA - Since joining the Iowa State University (ISU) animal science department last April, Anna Johnson has taught undergraduates, created a new graduate course in animal behavior and well-being that is co-taught with Texas Tech University and the University of Illinois, completed two behavioral trials, presented at a swine disease conference, and hired graduate students Ciara Goldsmith and Megan Keplinger, all before the end of the year.
calendar icon 23 February 2006
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And the assistant professor doesn't see her workload decreasing any time soon. “It’s been very overwhelming, yet nice to know that other researchers here at ISU are willing to work with me on a multitude of projects,“ Johnson said. “This semester I am hoping to get more extension and research focus, in addition to the teaching I did first semester.“

As an animal behavior specialist, Johnson knows that her work is critical to the state’s livestock industry and the general public. She said information and awareness of ethology, the study of the behavior of animals in their natural habitat and in the farming systems used today by pork producers, is in great demand from all segments of the pork chain, market place and humane organizations.

For example, with financial assistance from the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU, she was able to hire graduate students to help in various areas, including a project focused on two weaning ages in the nursery pig and the effects of using or not using growth enhancers at ISU’s Woodruff Farm. The second graduate student’s focus is comparing feedlot cattle finished in feedlots and hoop buildings, where she will be looking at performance, health and behavior measures.

“The job I have serves many levels, but it’s a chain effect. It starts with education, and that’s key,“ Johnson said. “Our animal science majors need to learn about animal well-being so they have skill sets and knowledge of the challenges they'll encounter as they move from ISU into the real work of ag business. And, pre-vet students who might have a mixed practice need to know their subject areas and resources, especially as they might eventually be doing on farm well-being assessments or audits.“

The education aspect leads directly to research, she said. Much of what she intends to do will be in applied research for all species.

“Well use information to work with real-life farms to see whether ideas we have will enhance well-being the animals behavior, physiology, performance, health, and overall production measures,“ Johnson said. “One example is a behavioral trial with Dr. Chad Stahl where we’re looking at diet manipulation to see whether we can decrease phosphorus excretion without affecting those measures. If it’s successful, it might help producers in lowering the P levels in manure for land application use.“

Finally, research results and study findings will be provided to producers and others who need that information.

“Updates need to be delivered through an Extension role such as Web pages, fact sheets or newsletters,“ Johnson said. “I still work closely with the swine industry at the national level, including serving on the National Pork Boards animal welfare committee and the sow longevity group.“

Johnson can be contacted by e-mail at johnsona or by phone at (515) 294-2098.

Source: Iowa State University Extension - 22nd February 2006 <

Iowa State University Extension
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