Dr. Christine B. Navarre
Maximizing livestock and poultry health and welfare will be essential to meeting the increased global demand for animal protein to feed the world’s population, which is estimated to grow by more than 1 billion by 2050. Fortunately, advancements in human and animal health are made daily. Sometimes advancements start with human health and are then adopted in animal health, and sometimes the opposite occurs.
Livestock health contributes to One Health, which is a multidisciplinary collaborative approach that recognizes that the health of people, animals, plants and the environment are closely connected. A One Health approach can prevent outbreaks of zoonotic disease in animals and people and improve food safety and security. The following are examples of advancements and future trends specific to livestock and poultry health.
Telehealth is the integration of telecommunications systems into veterinary care and allows veterinarians to remotely gather and deliver livestock health information to producers. Using telehealth to supplement in-person veterinary care can improve the speed, consistency and level of care delivered and increase access to underserved populations. This is particularly important in developing countries where veterinary infrastructure is inadequate. For example, cattle caretakers can send photographs of necropsies, which are animal autopsies, to the attending veterinarian to supplement other health and production data, such as morbidity rates, feed consumption and weight changes. This allows the attending veterinarian to formulate diagnostic, treatment and monitoring protocols between in-person visits. This information can then be forwarded to consultants for further expert input as necessary.
Telehealth has been used in livestock health delivery for decades, but new technology can augment the information received by the veterinarian as well as improve data interpretation to further improve the quality of livestock health and welfare. Wearable devices for livestock that help gather data, including electronic ear tags for cattle, are becoming increasingly more common and more sophisticated. Temperature, walking and lying time, eating and drinking are some of the parameters that can be monitored remotely. Livestock are prey species, so they try to hide signs of illness. Additionally, restraining them for an exam causes stress, which can change temperature, respiratory rate, heart rate and more. Remote monitoring can provide more accurate data while also decreasing stress. The number and types of parameters monitored in livestock are expected to continue to grow. For example, continuous glucose monitoring devices (CGMs) used currently in people offer a type of technology that could be used to monitor glucose or other important blood parameters in livestock.
The downside of the collection of so much data is the difficulty of achieving accurate interpretation by the human brain. However, artificial intelligence has the potential to help improve livestock health algorithms and health outcome predictions for developing more sound diagnostic, treatment and prevention strategies.
In many cases, new vaccine technology is used in animals before moving to people, but the messenger RNA, or mRNA, coronavirus vaccine developed for COVID-19 in humans opens the door for this new technology to be adapted for prevention of animal diseases. These mRNA vaccines are currently being tested for other infectious diseases and have generated positive results. Other advancements, such as heat-resistant vaccines that do not need to be stored at cold and subzero temperatures, will improve animal disease prevention in animals raised in warm climates. Also, mass delivery methods, which include administering vaccines through animal feed, can decrease the stress of administration.
Veterinarians and livestock producers go to great lengths to prevent disease, but it isn’t always possible, and antibiotic treatment is sometimes necessary. With increasing antibiotic resistance in animal pathogens, alternatives to antibiotics must be found. This is an area of intense research that is expected to pay dividends to both animal and human health. Probiotics, prebiotics, enzymes, peptides, oils, phytochemicals and immune-modulating drugs are some of the types of compounds being studied that offer promise for disease prevention as well as treatment.
Selecting livestock that are genetically resistant to disease would be a win for livestock health and welfare, and it is quickly becoming a reality. Genomic testing of breeding stock can currently identify animals resistant to infectious and noninfectious diseases and conditions, such as mastitis, respiratory disease, lameness and metabolic disease. The number and variety of commercially available tests is expected to continue to increase.
Dr. Christine B. Navarre is the extension veterinarian for the LSU AgCenter.
This article appeared in the fall 2022 issue of Louisiana Agriculture magazine.
The extension veterinarian for the AgCenter, Dr. Christine B. Navarre reviews new technology that can help livestock producers more efficiently care for their animals. Photo by Kyle Peveto/LSU AgCenter
An electronic ear tag can monitor the behavior and health of an animal in a pasture or feedlot. Photo courtesy of Dr. Peter Armstrong