The department of Animal Science, UC Davis is working towards a more sustainable animal agriculture in the state of California, the US and globally. The department is engaged in promoting and advancing environmental, social and economic sustainability of agriculture with special focus on domesticated and wild animals. Some of the activities of the department include:
- A whole systems approach to reducing the environmental impact of animal agriculture including
- Reduction of greenhouse gas emissions from animal agriculture by investigating mitigation options.
- Reduction of nitrogen excretion through experimental and modeling work.
- Extending knowledge on more efficient beef production.
- Addressing public concern about the humane treatment of animals and animal welfare issues. These include:
- Producers are being assisted with issues related to how they meet the demands of retailers for compliance with animal welfare auditing programs and standards, and how they fit into the “new matrix” of humanely labeled and locally sourced alternatively produced products. This also has implications for economic viability of the producers.
- Genetic improvement in the health of dairy cattle with specific focus on hoof health. Reducing lameness impacts dairy producers both as an animal welfare issue and productivity.
- Researching canine genetics to improve animal well-being and helping dog owners deal with genetically inherited disease issues in canine.
- Reducing heat stress in cattle, particularly during summer months to improve welfare of animals and increase productivity.
- Using biotechnology to address social concerns such as
- Intestinal damage, stunted growth and cognitive development of young children due to malnutrition and diarrhea. Work on supplying milk from dairy animals containing enhanced levels of the antimicrobial lysozyme will be able to mitigate the intestinal damage caused by malnutrition and/or diarrhea resulting in a healthier gut that is better able to fight disease, absorb nutrients and thereby promote the healthy growth of young children.
- Research on dairy animals producing antimicrobial compounds in their milk helps decrease mastitis incidence and severity, which is a huge concern to the dairy industry from welfare and production perspectives.
- Extending shelf-life of milk to reduce waste and improve food safety. Ongoing work on milk from transgenic dairy animals producing enhanced levels of antimicrobial proteins will address the concern.
- Aspects of animal well-being, disease susceptibility, and improved feed efficiency are been addressed through development of transgenics (e.g. in beef cattle) to improve long term economic sustainability of animal agriculture.
- Satisfying human need for food and fiber by increasing efficiency of animal production and improving resource utilization:
- Reproductive efficiency which has significant positive impacts on production efficiency and addresses human food needs. Increased efficiency lowers animal unit per output and decreases environmental impact. More efficient use of on-farm resources contributes to economic viability of farm operations, enhances the quality of life for farmers and for society as a whole.
- Increasing efficiency of mammary glands would in turn translate to reduced environmental impact and improved economic viability.
- Increasing the production of milk, or milk having improved composition, or producing these changes more efficiently helps satisfy human need for food and fiber in the face of increasing global population.
- Optimum feeding studies help farmers to be more economically viable as well as more sustainable by reducing feed waste.
- Improving efficiency of production of aquatic protein sources. For example, the biochemical and physiological elucidation of the molting process in crustaceans contribute to more efficient culture of relevant species for faster growth.
- Studying key environmental parameters that affect energy metabolism and feed conversion efficiency of fishes in an effort to discover biochemical strategies that minimize waste excretion by aquaculture fish such as tilapia.
g. Adapting livestock production to include fruit and vegetable by-products such as tomato and grape pomace as animal feed.
- Investigating responses of animals to stress (natural and man-made) to understand the biological mechanisms that serve to alleviate stress and maximize coping ability. Climate change may be responsible for physiological stressors such as those experienced by sturgeon populations. Both diet and environmental stressors have the potential to negatively impact on the physiological tolerance and thus the overall health of sturgeon.
- Food safety and animal health considerations such as:
- Reducing the use of antibiotics in livestock production systems without compromising animal health and food safety
- Reducing aquatic toxicology of selenium and mercury that particularly affects the San Francisco Bay and the Central Valley of California
- Using mathematical models to identify optimal genetic and nutritional management strategies to meet the needs for animal protein. Modeling is being used to support research efforts and generate decision aids for producers and policy makers. Farmer income and consumer experience will be enhanced through understanding of biological and other (e.g., management) factors that underlie product quality, helping producers meet consumer demands.
- Enhancing the quality of life for the society as a whole including:
- Researching worker health and food safety
- Breeding and training of horses that are being used for several activities such as leisure riding and mounts, searching operations and herding
- Education and extension activities to help understand producers, policy makers and society in general the complex issues involved in sustainable animal production and guide them to change to a more sustainable systems.