Current agricultural practices maintain livestock in some form of confinement, ranging in size and complexity from a pasture to a small pen not much bigger than the animal itself. These diverse environments each have similar areas of concern that need to be evaluated to determine to what extent livestock must be accommodated. These areas of concern are related to space allocation, thermal environment, air quality, and lighting level, to name a few. Determination of how much space animals need is a very difficult task. The question that needs to be answered is, given that we provide livestock with water and food, how much space is required to optimize the health and well-being of the animal? For instance, a recent review by a scientific committee evaluating space requirements of laying hens found that hens should be given 1.4 times more space than the current industry average. This recommendation was predominantly based on mortality and eggs laid per hen. However, the committee also considered the ability of the hens to rest, turn around, and feed at the same time. Currently, space recommendations for livestock are based on the amount of space that provides optimal growth and health (not maximal), given economics of production facilities and herd size. Typical space recommendations for livestock in research can be found in the Ag Guide.
When considering space requirements, it is important that not only quantity of space be considered, but quality of space as well. Quality issues deal with such characteristics as: 1) complexity, such as a multiroomed space vs. a fully open space; 2) floor substrate, such as concrete vs. straw; and 3) behavior-specific areas, such as a wallow area or a dust-bathing area vs. these areas being absent.
The thermal environment is also an important component of the physical environment that must meet the needs of livestock. Meeting this need in an outdoor system is often difficult, but can be accomplished with the provision of shade or wallows for cooling cattle and hogs and by providing dry, sheltered areas in winter. Because dairy cows are easily affected by excessive heat load, many farms are accommodating cows by installing cooling fans and misters in their loafing sheds. To meet the thermal demands of piglets, which require a thermal environment about 15° 20°F greater than their dam, heat lamps are placed beside the sow.
Other physical factors such as air quality and the amount of provided light are also important to meet the animal's needs. With intensive livestock production comes intensive concentration of animal waste. This waste produces toxic gases such as ammonia, which can adversely affect animal health. Air quality and ventilation must be closely monitored. Often, simply increasing the number of air exchanges in the facility can address this need and decrease both animal and human health concerns.
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