Coping with critical life phases of farm animals

Based on knowledge of the effects of environmental influences and endogenous stressors, this focus topic develops customised solution strategies for the management of critical life phases of farm animals

Maintaining healthy livestock is important to prevent diseases and ensure the well-being of our farm animals. Particularly in critical phases of life, such as around birth or weaning, animals have to deal with various challenges. These phases determine their health and performance in later life.

Our research focusses on how pre- and postnatal influences affect the metabolism, productivity, welfare and health of livestock. We also investigate how stress can be reduced during the transitions between life stages, e.g. from birth to weaning. We pay particular attention to the influence of environmental conditions, metabolic and social stressors.

In order to minimise the negative effects of climate change, heat stress and disease, we are developing strategies to increase the resilience and health of our animals. We are also interested in (epi-)genetic factors that influence long-term health and resource efficiency.

Our projects in the focus topic aim to develop new solutions to better deal with crisis situations for livestock in the future. To achieve this goal, we are researching the links between genetic variation, health, welfare and resource efficiency in order to make livestock farming more sustainable and resilient.

Joint projects

To ensure that our livestock grow up healthy, it is important that young animals are reared without interference. The first phases of life, from fertilisation to weaning from the mother animal, are particularly sensitive. Problems during this period can not only immediately affect the animals' well-being and performance, but also have long-term consequences in later life.

In order to avoid developmental disorders and diseases, we need to better understand the biological processes involved in the various developmental phases. In our joint project, we are investigating how genetic factors, birth weight, sex, litter size and various care and feeding measures influence growth, intestinal development, body composition, immune response and social behaviour. Our aim is to promote animal welfare, especially to prevent diseases in the young animals, and to utilise their potential efficiently.

During life, animals are exposed to recurrent processes in the production cycle (birth and lactation, feed changes, regrouping), which cause specific metabolic stress and increased susceptibility to exogenous seasonal or environmental factors. The effects of exogenous stressors, in particular heat stress, as well as the mechanisms of action and interactions with endogenous factors (e.g. circadian rhythms) and metabolic stressors are investigated. Understanding the molecular, metabolic and ethological processes involved in the management of these stressors will allow strategies to be developed to avoid negative consequences for animal welfare, health and performance and to ensure a long and healthy life.