Animal Behavior and Welfare


Who We Are

Faculty       Graduate Students

Faculty and Post-Doctoral Researchers

Scientists with the USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit are Adjunct Faculty in the Department of Animal Sciences

Heng-wei Cheng

 
Heng-wei Cheng

Research Biologist, USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit

Dr. Cheng came to the United States after he received MD and MS degree in Neurology in China; and then received PhD degree in Neuroscience and Anatomy and Cell Biology from Wayne State University, Michigan. Dr. Cheng completed 4 years as a post-doctoral research fellow in Neurogerontology and followed with a research assistant professor position in Neurobiology of the University of Southern California. Dr. Cheng has been at USDA-ARS and Purdue University for 13 years. Before joining the ARS and Purdue University, Dr. Cheng's research focused on human disease, including Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson's disease, and Alzheimer's disease, using integrated techniques from neurology, neurophysiology, neurobiology, pathology, genetics, and behavior. Since joining the ARS and Purdue University, Dr. Cheng's research has been focused on animal well-being, with emphases on the interactions of the psychological, genetic, neurobiological, physiological, and immunological events that alter an animal's adaptability to husbandry environments. Dr. Cheng's current research emphases are on 1) pain in farm animals, following various management practices, such as beak trimming in poultry; 2) genetic selection for improving animal well-being; 3) preventing aggression by modification of the serotonin system; 4) developing intervention strategies for increasing heat tolerance; and 5) developing alternative housing systems for improving animal health and production.


Candace Croney

 
Candace Croney

Associate Professor, Animal Behavior and Well-being

Candace earned her bachelor's degree in Animal Science from Cook College, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, and her master's and PhD in Animal Behavior and Welfare from The Pennsylvania State University. Her research interests include the interactions between animal behavior, cognition and well–being, the effects of rearing environments and enrichment on animal behavior and welfare, the ethical implications of animal care and use decisions, and public perceptions of animal agriculture. Her research on farm animal cognition has been featured in national and international broadcast programs by National Geographic, the BBC and their affiliates. She serves as scientific advisor on animal welfare to numerous groups, including American Humane Association, National Pork Board, National Pork Producers Council, Bob Evans Farms, P & G Inc., and CFI's Animal Care Review Panel.


Susan Eicher

 
Susan Eicher

Research Physiologist (Animals), USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit

Dr. Eicher was raised on a cow-calf and wheat farm in northwest Kansas. Laying hen projects and beef projects in 4-H began her career with agriculture. A BS and MS degree, both in behavior modification programs using young children and rodents as subjects was completed in 1976 and 1983. After returning to Kansas State in 1985, she completed an MS in nutritional immunology with dairy calves and a Ph.D. in the same research area in 1992. Dr. Eicher completed several years as a post-doctoral research associate in Dr. Scott McVey's lab (Kansas State University Department of Pathology and Microbiology, College of Veterinary Medicine) with a focus on omega-3 fatty acid's influence on Salmonella infections and followed with a post-doctoral position with Dr. Frank Blecha (Kansas State University Department of Anatomy and Physiology College of Veterinary Medicine) investigating the immunomodulating properties of beta-glucans from Saccharomyces cerevisia for both swine and cattle. The position that Dr. Eicher holds, was announced for someone with behavior and immunology background working with cattle and swine. Dr. Eicher has been at USDA-ARS for 16 years and continues to expand both her well-being program, primarily with cattle, and the food safety project with a primary focus on Salmonella in cattle and swine. Immune modulation by dietary ingredients and housing and management stressors are the impetus of her research. Current research is focused on best practices for grouping of dairy and veal calves, impact of chronic pain on immunity in cattle, and dietary modulation of intestinal microbiota and gut associated and peripheral immunity.


Scotti Hester

 
Scotti Hester

Professor of Animal Sciences

Patricia (Scotti) Hester has been on the Purdue University faculty since December 1976. Her B.S. in Poultry Science and Ph.D. in Poultry Physiology are from North Carolina State University under the mentorship of J. Paul Thaxton. As a recipient of a Nicholas Fellowship sponsored by Cuddy Farms, she spent a six- month industrial sabbatical in Strathroy, Ontario in 1987. Dr. Hester has been a member of the United Egg Producer's scientific advisory committee on animal welfare since its inception in 1998 and currently serves as chair. Dr. Hester led a team of esteemed poultry scientists from a wide array of universities and industry to update welfare guidelines for the care and use of poultry in university research and education (the poultry chapter of the 2010 FASS "Ag Guide"). Dr. Hester served as President of the Poultry Science Association (PSA) in 2005, was named a PSA Fellow in 2009 and received the Poultry Welfare Research Award in 2010. In 2009, she received the North Carolina State University Distinguished Alumni Award from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Her research centers on skeletal abnormalities, including osteoporosis. She currently teaches a graduate level course in avian physiology and also assists with the "Avian Physiology" course taught at the Midwest Poultry Consortium at the University of Wisconsin. In addition, she teaches an undergraduate capstone class to seniors titled "Commercial Poultry Management."


Don Lay

 
Don Lay

Research Leader, USDA-ARS Livestock Behavior Research Unit

Don was raised in central Virginia, on a traditional family farm, consisting of cattle, swine and horses. Currently he lives in Indiana on a small acreage with large menagerie of pets. He received a B.S. degree in Animal Science from Virginia Tech in 1985; and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Animal Science from Texas A&M in 1990 and 1995, respectively. Upon graduation, he accepted a position at Iowa State University as Assistant Professor specializing in Behavioral Physiology. In 2000, Don moved to West Lafayette, IN to serve as a Research Scientist and Research Leader of the USDA-Agricultural Research Service's Livestock Behavior Research Unit. This research unit is paired with members of Purdue University's Animal Science department, affectively creating the largest and most significant team of scientists in the U.S. focused on animal welfare. Don leads his team of scientists responsible for developing scientific measures of stress and well-being in swine, cattle, and poultry; using the multiple disciplines of stress physiology, immunology, neurophysiology, bacteriology, and ethology. Don has authored and co-authored 1 text book, 2 book chapters, and over 90 articles of which more than 50 are peer reviewed. He has been invited to give more than 40 presentations nationally and internationally, and presented more than 90 abstracts at scientific meetings and workshops. Don has been a PI or Co-PI on more than 23 externally funded grant proposals totaling more than $2 million dollars.

The ultimate goal of his research program is to discover information that will allow for both optimum animal welfare and animal production. Society, animal researchers, and livestock producers are concerned about the stress to which animals are subjected, and all wish to have this stress minimized. Yet there is still struggle to define stress and interpret animal behavior in order to assess the state of livestock. Decreasing animal stress and increasing animal welfare is a noble goal and a surmountable challenge. Don's research program is designed to meet this challenge and to produce a lasting contribution to both science and society.


Maja Makagon

 
Maja Makagon

Assistant Professor of Animal Sciences

Born in Poland, Maja Makagon earned a bachelor's degree in biology at the University of Virginia, a master's degree in psychology at Cornell University and a PhD in animal behavior at the University of California, Davis. She takes an integrative approach to research, drawing from theoretical and applied perspectives and methodologies in animal behavior to find solutions to issues in modern animal production. Broadly, her interests surround ways in which animals perceive and interact with features of their environments, and the implications these interactions have on the management, well-being and productivity of animals in commercial settings. Her current projects center on 3 broad areas of research: understanding social interactions in commercially housed poultry; understanding the effects of an animal's physical and social environment on its behavior and welfare; and development of valid and reliable measures of welfare. Dr. Makagon is a member of the Poultry Science Association and is the current U.S. Regional Secretary for the International Society for Applied Ethology.


Bill Muir

 
William Muir

Professor of Animal Sciences

William Muir's primary areas of expertise are population and quantitative genetics/genomics with a research focus on the application of genomics to develop marker assisted breeding programs for complex traits with emphasis on disease resistance and animal behavior. His laboratory has also developed genetic methods to improve adaptability, stress resistance, and animal well-being. Understanding how to account for and reduce competitive interactions in artificial breeding programs would greatly increase response to selection, and expand the range of species that can be domesticated; such as carnivorous and/or cannibalistic shell- and game-fish, and also improve animal well-being of those species that have been domesticated. Experimental results with group selection and mixed model methods showed that both methods had positive and sometimes extraordinary improvements as compared to convention individual selection.


Judi Stella

 
Judi Stella

Post-Doctoral Researcher

Judi earned her bachelor's degree in Animal Sciences from The Pennsylvania State University and her Ph.D. in Comparative and Veterinary Medicine from The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine. Her research interests include environmental factors that affect the behavior and welfare of companion animals and the impact of the quality of human-animal interactions on animal welfare. She is particularly interested in how societal perceptions of animals affect the human-animal bond and relinquishment or abandonment of companion animals. Her research to date has investigated aspects of the housing environment on cat behavior when acutely confined to a cage, simulating the experience of entering a shelter or veterinary facility. She is currently working as a post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Candace Croney on a project assessing cognitive abilities of piglets that could potentially be help to improve pig welfare.