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From animal nutrition to clinical veterinary research

At the Unesp of Botucatu, health care with in breeding

Two tractors from the 50s, which until a few months ago were used for all types of service on the Lageado campus, one of the three farms of the Veterinary Medicine and Zootechnology School of Unesp, have gone to a museum. In their final mission, they helped to overcome recent difficulties in the growing of hay and vegetables, necessary items for the production of feeding for the animals destined for research.

The project for the restoration and the renovation of the machinery and implements used in teaching, research and the school’s production farms, was only one of a number that professor Eunice Oba, of the Animal Reproduction and Veterinary Radiology Department remitted to FAPESP four years ago when she was the director of the unit. The subsequent approval of the project resulted in benefits for all of the school. An example was the restoration of the animal feed plant which, built four decades previously, had operated at a slow pace over the past few years. Of the total of approximately R$ 1.5 million destined by FAPESP to the research projects of the school, part was invested in the renovation of the machinery and part to the modernization of the installations, with the purchase of two new tractors, of two planting machines for tall grass and for corn, and of a cereal silo among the other pieces of equipment.

The result today is that the plant attends to all of the demands for animal feeding, spending only one third of the amount previously spent. Advised by the animal nutrition sector, the plant produces specific feeds for cattle, horses, pigs, sheep, goats, buffalo, rabbits and dogs. “Today we know the proportion of brute protein taken in by each animal” says Eunice. “Data such as this increases the control of research in the areas of Animal Reproduction, Veterinary Surgery, Clinical Veterinary as well as Hygiene and Public Health, all of which take place 8 kilometers from here at the Rubião Júnior campus.”

The campus houses the schools of Unesp in Botucatu, where the investments of the Infrastructure Program changed the reality of teaching and research. The Animal Reproduction Department, one of the four in Veterinary Medicine, began to be able to use nine laboratories. What today is the Center of Reproduction Biotechnology, built according international standards, was no more than a “large wooden shed, with dirt floor, with drainage problems and with damaged electrical circuits that were falling apart” are the words professor Frederico Ozanam Papa, responsible for the center. Here research and surgery on cattle and horses are carried out, and, since the conclusion of the restoration at the beginning of 2000, the number of post-graduates who attend the center has gone up from less than ten to fifty. Students from other Brazilian states and also from other Latin American countries are attracted by the high levels attained throughout the course. 500 students are now studying as under-graduates.

Integrated environments
The restructuring of the different areas of the center integrated the practice of clinics, surgery and research. Before, the diverse stages of research were performed in distant locations: semen collection in the field; the placing of a dye on a sample microscope slide in a building; the freezing of the semen collected in another. Now, beside the new collection area a didactic laboratory was built where the students analyze the recently collected samples under electronic microscopes connected to a video camera. The microscopy sector is one of the facilities added by the reform, along with the means laboratory where the research materials are prepared, and the location where the pregnancy exams on mares are carried out.

The Sheep and Goats laboratory was also re-structured with a grant from the Infrastructure Program. Research begun before the reform allowed a comparison of the flocks reared under the old conditions with new, which has expanded within the new installations. According to professor Sony Dimas Bicudo, the post reform animals attain a higher average weight. “We got excited. The quality of the experiments depends on the health of the animals.” More functional, the laboratory can now count upon a laparoscope for artificial insemination, which guaranteed 70% fertility as against 30% through traditional insemination.

The wooden animal shed gave way to a concrete structure, equipped with systems of acclimatization and illumination with which it is possible to simulate autumn and thus induce the sheep to reproduce. The structure of the flooring, with spaces between slats, made the environment healthier. Until the end of 1999, none of this existed. There wasn’t even a proper place for looking after these animals. The collecting of blood and semen, the weighing and the ultrasonography of the sheep, goats, cattle and the sheep, were performed in the same space. “The mares got scared with the restless behavior of the sheep” recalls professor Dimas Bicudo. Often he and his team wasted their time going after runaway animals.

Agrarian research
The School of Agronomy Sciences of Botucatu, which has the largest part of its structure on farms, mainly at the Lageado campus, also received resources from the Infrastructure Program. Close to R$ 1.7 million was spent on the renovation of its laboratories and the three greenhouses, two of Horticulture and one of Phytosanitary Defense. In this case, the resources allowed for an expansion to three times the original size as well as being able to count upon a modern system of irrigation and acclimatization. Here the research aim to develop solutions for overcoming sicknesses in agricultural crops by the use of chemical, physical or biological agents or by a change in handling procedures.

“Twenty projects had their stages jeopardized by the lack of space”, says professor Antonio Carlos Maringoni, referring to the period before the reform. He gave as an example the case of the experiments with beans and soybeans, carried out in plastic tunnels that didn’t allow for adequate control of the development of the growth and of the sicknesses.