Monday, July 21, 2014
PLACERVILLE, CALIFORNIA
99 CENTS

Rock doc: Helping 1 billion bovines

By
From page A4 | June 22, 2011 |

E. Kirsten Peters mug

Peters

You and I have our challenges and some real worries, too. There are bills to pay and doctors to visit, to say nothing of mulling over those strange sounds coming from the rear of the car.

But I confess I thought the life of a cow was rather placid. Eating and sleeping, I would have guessed, pretty much summed up the existence of the more than 1 billion bovines that share the planet with us.

But as I’ve recently learned, both beef cattle and dairy cows often have trouble just catching their breath. It’s not that they are gaily running across their pastures, frolicking joyfully in the sunlight, until they simply overdo it. It’s that they are suffering – and I do mean suffering – from serious infections of their respiratory tracts.

The problem is caused by a malady called Bovine Respiratory Disease or BRD. It kills more than a million animals each year in the U.S., resulting in a loss of about $700 million to American ranchers and dairy farmers. Those are staggering figures, well known to those involved with the beef and dairy industries but oddly outside the world of typical Americans who see the food chain on which they depend only via aisles in the supermarket.

The BRD problem has been a difficult one for researchers to address. It’s a broad category of disease, a bit like pneumonia in us humans. I might have pneumonia due to a bacterial infection that’s enhanced by the fact I’m drinking far too much and staying up all night. You might be living a healthy life but nonetheless contract pneumonia due to a virus you happened to pick up from a little old lady at church.

BRD is likewise probably caused by a variety of agents and conditions. But it’s useful to think of it as one problem because it ends up causing a similar set of symptoms, just as pneumonia does. Those symptoms lead cows to struggle to get their breath. And despite modern veterinary science, more than a million head of beef and dairy cattle in this country die each year due to BRD.

A few strains of cattle clearly have some resistance to BRD, a fact that suggests that part of the BRD picture is genetic. On the other hand, transporting cattle – which introduces stress into their lives – can increase the incidence of BRD. And if sick animals are introduced to a herd of cattle, BRD can spread from the ill animals to the healthy ones.

Animal scientist Holly Neibergs at Washington State University is one member of a team of researchers recently formed to research causes of BRD. Neibergs will work to identify genetic markers that correspond to susceptibility or resistance to BRD. Simply put, she’ll try to find the genetic signatures that are useful for cattle so they can better put up a serious fight against respiratory infections. Results could help determine the selective breeding of cows to eventually reduce or even eliminate BRD.

Neibergs and her collaborators will examine 6,000 dairy and feedlot cattle in the U.S. for their research. That’s a lot of cows – cattle that as I calculate it have a total of 12,000 hind-end hoofs to kick the researchers if they’re not careful.

“Prevention of respiratory disease will allow cattle and producers to breath easier,” Neibergs told me.

I wish Niebergs and her co-workers the best for all sorts of reasons. Clearly, limiting the wide prevalence of BRD would aid a major American industry. Beyond that, it would also help keep food prices as low as they can be for all of us. And decreasing or even eradicating BRD would lessen the suffering of the animals themselves.

Let’s hoist a glass (of wholesome milk) to that ideal.

Dr. E. Kirsten Peters, a native of the rural Northwest, was trained as a geologist at Princeton and Harvard. Follow her on the web at rockdoc.wsu.edu and on Twitter @RockDocWSU. This column is a service of the College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University.

Comments

comments

E. Kirsten Peters

.

News

Heard over the back fence: Public swim times announced

By Bob Billingsley | From Page: B1

 
IRS unveils Taxpayer Bill of Rights

By News Release | From Page: B1

 
Highway 50 collision fatal

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A1

Stay connected through sheriff

By El Dorado County Sheriff's Office | From Page: B1

 
EDH community unites to patch up historic barn

By Mike Roberts | From Page: A1 | Gallery

P’ville hires Camino superintendent

By News Release | From Page: B1

 
Bird tests positive for West Nile

By Ross Branch | From Page: A1

County gets partial refund on promotional event

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A3

 
Jeepers expo Wednesday in Georgetown

By Dawn Hodson | From Page: A3

Help SWR with squirrel babies

By Sierra Wildlife Rescue | From Page: A9

 
.

Opinion

The rural life: Save the day: Neuter and spay

By Jennifer Forsberg Meyer | From Page: A4

 
Different place, different priorities

By Mountain Democrat | From Page: A4

California rambling: Giving cities a pass

By John Poimiroo | From Page: A4 | Gallery

 
.

Letters

A thank you note

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
Prada belongs in Berkeley

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Ready for Hillary?

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 2 Comments

 
Fukushima

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

Diamond Springs Firefighters Union is corrupt

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5, 1 Comment

 
100+ years and thanks

By Letters to the Editor | From Page: A5

.

Sports

Valley View Sports Park

By Julie Samrick | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Under the Scoreboard: July 20, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Schedule: July 21-26

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

 
Becker slips by in wild KWS finish

By Gary Thomas | From Page: A6

Sports Scene: July 20, 2014

By Jerry Heinzer | From Page: A6

 
Roundup: July 20, 2014

By Democrat Staff | From Page: A6

Season over for Post 119

By Mike Bush | From Page: A6 | Gallery

 
Sophia Barden wins strut title

By Special to the Democrat | From Page: A7

.

Prospecting

How to safely help a horse

By Wendy Schultz | From Page: B2 | Gallery

 
Railroad Museum offers a fun ‘History Happy Hour’

By California State Railroad Museum | From Page: B4

 
As we were: Money for home repairs

By Ken Deibert | From Page: B4

Volunteer kitchen help needed in EDH

By Health and Human Services Agency | From Page: B10

 
Marshall Medical Center to host day of fitness and fun

By Marshall Medical | From Page: B10

 
Kids parade for free admission to the fair

By Amador County Fair | From Page: B10

.

Essentials

Crime Log: July 6-8

By Cole Mayer | From Page: A2

 
.

Obituaries

Kathryn Noreen Nolan

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Betty Ellene Hock

By Contributor | From Page: A2Comments are off for this post

Douglas J. Beam

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
Arthur J. Funston

By Contributor | From Page: A2

Jerry Grant Young Jr.

By Contributor | From Page: A2

 
.

Real Estate

.

Comics

Rubes

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
New York Times Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

TV Listings

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Speed Bump

By Contributor | From Page: A8

American Profile Crossword

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Tundra

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Horoscope, Tuesday, July 22, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Horoscope, Monday, July 21, 2014

By Contributor | From Page: A8

Shoe

By Contributor | From Page: A8

 
Sukodu

By Contributor | From Page: A8