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Engineering, agricultural professors collaborate on stray voltage research

With researchers in the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences, Civil and Environmental Engineering Assistant Professor David Alumbaugh will begin a groundbreaking research project that may determine if and explain how stray voltage affects livestock.

In the three-part study, Alumbaugh, Biological Systems Engineering Associate Professor Douglas Reinemann and Dairy Science Professor Lewis Sheffield will attempt to measure high-frequency ground current and electromagnetic fields on farms. Alumbaugh will measure electrical ground currents in the 1 Hz to 1 kHz frequency range on farms with and without electrical problems. He is the first to attempt such extensive research on actual farmsteads. Reinemann will lead an attempt to expose cattle to the type of electrical phenomena Alumbaugh observes in the field, while Sheffield will evaluate their responses to it.

Photo of conventional farm.The trio will use the latest biological techniques to measure gene expression as a possible indicator of cattle well-being following exposure to certain electrical events, and will gather more traditional and parallel data on variables such as daily water and feed intake, body temperature, daily milk production and milking duration. The group will record the time and pattern of cattle standing and lying down, as well as the time for cows to re-enter stalls after milking.

The study forges new ways to measure animal response to electrical exposure, and may make important contributions to standardizing measurement of such electrical events as stray voltage. The three will imitate their field observations in a controlled laboratory setting, in which they can screen out scores of other variables found on working farms.

The project is funded with $350,000 the Wisconsin legislature provided in its last budget to study stray voltage. The UW Stray Voltage Research Planning Committee (SVRPC), a faculty-government committee, approved the funding. Prior to the project's approval, the (SVRPC) considered the opinions of several scientists concerned about how to approach the difficult issue of the effects of stray voltage.