eLearning to address new challenges in controlled environment animal production

The animal industries are facing challenges and need a trained workforce.

Animal production is the largest sector of agriculture and plays an important role in the U.S. economy. Over the past decades, mechanization development and economic pressure have driven commercial animal production into large-scale and industrialized operations for high production efficiency. The large-scale animal production is facing significant challenges due to their environmental impact, climate change and variability, animal welfare issues, and increasing energy costs. Facility and environmental control technologies play a critical role in animal production and can potentially provide solutions to these emerging challenges. The animal industry needs a competent workforce of professionals who are trained with new knowledge in emerging technologies for animal facility and environmental control. This workforce will thus be able to address the challenges related to animal production and to transform the industries’ challenges into opportunities for sustainable operations.

Existing trainings do not meet the new needs.

A course in Environmental Control for Agricultural Structures is traditionally offered in many agricultural and biological engineering programs at land-grant universities to meet the animal industries’ needs for environmental control technologies. Unfortunately, fewer universities offer the course than in the past, which means many students do not have the opportunity to take such a course. Furthermore, the existing courses primarily focus on meeting thermal comfort needs of animals or plants through ventilation in conjunction with heating and/or cooling. The new challenges facing animal agriculture are not being addressed.

 

OSU is developing new trainings on challenges in enrolled environment animal production

Significant research developments have occurred in the past decade in areas of mitigation and adaptation to the climate change; effects of indoor environment on animal health and welfare, food safety, and farm biosecurity; energy efficiency analysis of animal buildings; and renewable energy use and production on farms. There is a critical need to capitalize on recent research findings to develop new teaching modules addressing current and future challenges. OSU is leading a multi-disciplinary and multi-institutional team to address this critical need by advancing educational curriculum materials in controlled environment animal production (eCEAP).

New eLearning educational modules are being developed in four emerging challenge areas related to animal production: climate change, sustainable energy, food safety, and animal health and welfare.

 

Climate change

The projected climate change will have significant impacts on animal production. Many scientists expect increases in heat-related morbidity and mortality. Sustainability of current animal production systems in a warming climate is a legitimate concern. Higher temperatures and humidity directly cause animal heat stress. Extreme weather conditions require more resilient livestock systems. Therefore, new designs and management of environmental control systems of animal production facilities are needed in consideration of the climate change factors. New indoor environmental control technology and strategies for both abatement and adaptation to global climate change and variability are needed. The associated educational materials are needed to prepare future workforce of the animal industry. The educational focuses of this module are strategies for cooling animal environments and the associate ventilation needs.

 

Sustainable energy

Modern animal production systems raise animals in buildings with ventilation, heating, and/or cooling environmental control that uses large amounts of natural gas or electrical energy. As the energy prices increase, sustainability of modern farm operation comes into a question. On the other hand, farms have the resources to generate on-farm renewable energy, such as biogas, geothermal energy, and solar and wind energy. It is important to develop energy efficient facilities with renewable on-farm energy systems for future animal production. The educational focuses of the module are (1) methods and tools for comprehensive energy audits; (2) methods to reduce the use of energy and water, therefore reducing GHG emission; (3) on-farm renewable energy systems, and (4) new building and environmental control systems using renewable energy.

Food safety issues have caused significant public health concerns. Salmonella and E-coli outbreak investigations have linked the pathogen sources to animal production. A collaborating research between researchers of OSU and Michigan State University has demonstrated thermal environment of animal facilities directly correlated with Salmonella prevalence and thermal environmental control is a cost effective pre-harvest intervention for Salmonella prevalence in swine Therefore, it is beneficial to address the food safety problem at the source using pre-harvest environmental control prevention during animal production. In addition, indoor air quality studies of housing facilities concluded that airborne microbial contaminations (i.e., bioaerosols) within buildings lead to animal and human exposures. Moreover, bioaerosols may transport off the farm sites, promoting disease propagation and outbreak. Ventilation directly affects bioaerosol concentration and distribution. The educational focuses of this module are sources, transport, and control of pathogens in animal facilities and outdoors in neighboring communities and the associated environmental control technologies for food safety and animal health.

Animal welfare and health play a critical role in the sustainability, viability, and competitiveness of the U.S. animal industry. Enhancing animal welfare throughout the production chain remains a challenge. In animal grow-out cycles, environmental stresses compromise animal welfare and productivity. Enhanced or alternative housing designs are being implemented as solutions to improve animal welfare. The educational focuses of this module are the animal welfare issues, assessment tools and methods, and facilities and management practices for improvement.

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