Pushing the boundaries

Pushing the boundaries

May 11
Steve Loerch, Head, Department of Animal Sciences

Our mission is diverse in the Department of Animal Sciences at Illinois, and our programs touch society in many ways. We are pushing the boundaries of knowledge in areas that affect human and animal health, human and animal well-being, bioenergy and the environment, as well as food production and food security. For example, our companion animal nutrition program has changed the way you feed your dogs and cats, improving health and quality of life for our fur-kids.

Did you know that pasture and rangelands comprise 27 percent of the world’s landmass, while less than 10 percent of our land is suitable for crop production (and this acreage is shrinking)? Animal agriculture allows the conversion of these vast forage resources into highly nutritious meat and dairy products. In addition, byproducts from the grain and food processing industries can be included in animal diets, allowing meat, milk, and egg production from otherwise wasted resources.

Advances in animal sciences research have allowed us to double food animal production in the United States during the past 30 years. Average milk production in Illinois dairy cows has gone from 14,000 pounds to 23,000 pounds/year. In 1980, one sow produced 1,900 pounds of pork/year. Now a sow produces over 5,500 pounds of pork/year! Similar advances have been realized in beef and poultry production. And even as productivity has increased, the environmental impact of food animal production has been reduced by 20 percent. Improved nutrition, animal genetics, physiology, health, housing, and management make these improvements possible. This is what we do in animal sciences.

Our discoveries and those of our graduates contribute to a safe, nutritious, sustainable, and affordable food supply and enhance the well-being and health of humans and companion animals. Our research also improves the eating quality of our food. I just read a PhD proposal from one of our meat science students that has implications for improved tenderness of those outstanding steaks I buy at our Meat Sales Room. Now that’s research I can sink my teeth into!
Illinois steak