Expansion begins on livestock center

Gold shovels made brown dirt fly Friday, as the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture broke ground for a $28.5 million expansion and renovation of its Livestock Disease Diagnostic Center.

Gov. Steve Beshear, who presented UK officials with $20 million to help support the project, said the expansion is a key investment to expand Kentucky's agricultural industry and prepare for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games at the Kentucky Horse Park in 2010.

The livestock disease diagnostic center, located on UK's Coldstream Research Campus off Newtown Pike, provides a variety of services for Kentucky's livestock producers, but also helps protect the public health by providing for early diagnosis of animal diseases that potentially could infect Kentucky's herds or even leap to humans.

It is one of the busiest such centers in the country, performing about 5,000 necropsies, or animal autopsies, each year and seeing about 60,000 clinical cases annually. That heavy caseload made expansion of the facility crucial, according to UK.

"Enhancement ... is absolutely essential if the College of Agriculture is to be able to fulfill its state-mandated missions of safe guarding animal health," said Scott Smith, UK's agriculture dean.

Improvements will include additional wings for necropsy and administration, freeing existing space for laboratory work. Overall, the existing 38,000-square-foot facility will nearly double in size.

"It's a most exciting day for the agricultural community all across Kentucky," Beshear said during the ground breaking ceremonies. "Two of the most important things for the future of this country are food and energy. Kentucky and its agricultural community stand in a unique place ... to supply this country with both of those items."

Expanding the livestock facility will help Kentucky do both, the governor said.

UK hopes to have the expansion completed in time for the 2010 World Equestrian Games, which will bring horses to Lexington from all over the world and increase the risk of some foreign disease being introduced to Kentucky's horses.

Having the expanded center available for early detection of such equine illnesses could be a key in preventing a devastating outbreak, officials say.