» Current work at the Department of Animal Science and Behavior:
Recent Publications »

1. Scientists Study Swimming Swine to Raise More Sociable Sows

Researchers are trying to learn why pigs fight when in groups. Michigan State University, Animal Behavior and Welfare Group is studying pigs' memory to understand their social behavior.


2. MSU team strives to improve lives of working horses in Brazil

Animal welfare and human welfare never seem so at odds than on the streets of southern Brazil. Yet a small team from MSU is striving to create a way to improve the lives of working horses, and in turn improve the lives of the impoverished people who depend on them.


3. At Michigan State University, we developed two novel approaches to assess spatial and social memory in young pigs. In order to monitor spatial memory in pigs as an indicator of hippocampal integrity, we are currently validating the use of the Morris-Water Maze test. This test was first developed to assess spatial memory in rodents, and has been used successfully at MSU to address questions related to spatial memory in piglets (Laughlin and Zanella, in press 2003). The test relies on the ability of pigs to retain spatial information related to the location of a submersed platform, over successive (n=7) exposures. We measure the latency to reach the platform and the path that the pigs took to reach the platform as a measure of memory and learning. We (Souza and Zanella, 2001) have also developed an experimental technique to assess social memory in pigs. The protocol provides reliable information on the acquisition of familiarity in pigs after successive exposures to the same animal. Our current objective is to examine whether weaning age can compromise brain organization, particularly hippocampus mediated processes. Our goals (Souza, A.S. & Zanella, A.J.) are to develop a social recognition test for use in pigs and to investigate how age and short-term increases in glucocorticoids (e.g. cortisol) affect the recognition process. We are also validating a test to assess spatial memory in pigs (Laughlin and Zanella, in preparation), using an adaptation of the Morris-Water Maze test. Our data indicates that pigs as young as 7 days of age can easily gather spatial information in the water-maze. Pigs exposed to the pool will readily identify the location of the submersed platform and showed learning after 3 to 4 successive exposures at short intervals (5-10 minutes between exposures).

4. We recently commenced a project funded by the USA-NRI- Animal Health and Well-being to address the impact of weaning age on cognition in pigs. We will use glucocorticoid antagonists to block the activation of the receptors in animals subjected to early or conventional weaning. In addition, in collaboration with G. Smith and J. Burton (MSU, Department of Animal Science) we will characterize the ontogeny of the expression of mineralocorticoid and glucocorticoid receptors in pigs. We will also investigate the ontogeny of 11-ß hydroxysteroid dehydrogenase (types 1 & 2).

Interactive multimedia
a) We are currently developing interactive multimedia concepts and tools to be used for teaching at several levels, as well as potential stockperson and welfare auditor training (Heleski, Zanella & Pajor, 2001). Michigan State University continues to host the annual North American Intercollegiate Animal Welfare Judging Competition. The objective of the animal welfare judging team is to present to undergraduate students the opportunity to assess the welfare of animals maintained in different housing, husbandry, nutrition, and environmental conditions. Students will be exposed to the existing literature on animal welfare and will be presented with hypothetical (or real) scenarios using multi-media (CD-primarily). Their task will then be to compare the scenarios on the basis of their acceptability regarding welfare standards and justify their placements. ABWG staff are currently working to enhance the interactivity and complexity of the digital scenarios.

b) A new interactive animal welfare assessment teaching tool is also being developed to teach graduate students and potential welfare auditors how to locate, integrate and assess important information found in a real-life animal care facility in order to make a reliable welfare judgment. The digital format for this graduate course will include lectures, interactive exercises and a searchable database of relevant literature.

c) The ABWG is also currently creating the Animal Welfare Interactive Digital Library (AWIDL), a multi-layer, searchable collection of video clips, still photographs and peer-reviewed literature related to all aspects of animal welfare. When complete, this library will be web-based and freely available for scholarly and non-profit public use.”

Assessment of animal welfare...
Developing protocols to assess the processes by which humans develop their attitudes toward animal welfare issues; developing a novel concept to be used ...

We have developed a model to increase education of animal welfare issues based on a traditional curriculum feature within animal science departments: judging teams ...
Equine Welfare Intervention
Strategy. is a ten-day intervention strategy designed to investigate the welfare of working horses, to develop realistic solutions to critical welfare issues facing these ...