June 15, 2011


 Millions go toward cattle disease, feed intake research

posted May 31, 2011
Two grants from the USDA will fund studies
looking at reducing the prevalence of bovine
respiratory disease and feed efficiency in cattle.

The Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture announced April 15 that it had awarded two major grants totaling more than $14 million to support research, education, and outreach on cattle production to increase global food security.

Of the total, $9.75 million is going to Texas A&M University to fund research led by James E. Womack, PhD, to reduce the prevalence of bovine respiratory disease in beef and dairy cattle. BRD is the leading natural cause of death in beef and dairy cattle, causing annual losses of more than 1 million animals valued at nearly $700 million, according to a TAMU press release.

With this grant, researchers hope to accomplish the goal of reducing the incidence of BRD through the identification of genetic components that provide resistance to pathogens that cause the disease. For this, Dr. Womack and his team will work with commercial feedlots to analyze the DNA of more than 6,000 cattle. The investigators will then develop selective breeding programs based on their research, to improve animal health management strategies and provide an understanding of the biological interactions between the host and the disease-causing pathogens.

Dr. Womack's team includes scientists from the University of California-Davis, Colorado State University, the University of Missouri-Columbia, New Mexico State University, Washington State University, and USDA's Agricultural Research Service.

NIFA awarded the remaining $4.9 million to the University of Missouri-Columbia College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources to study feed efficiency in cattle. The five-year research project is led by the college's Jeremy Taylor, PhD. With this grant, researchers will genotype 8,000 cattle and determine how genetic differences affect feed intake and efficiency. They will also study specific bacteria and microbes that reside in the cattle's stomach and aid in food digestion.

"If we can identify and selectively breed the animals that have the best combination of genes for producing high-quality beef with the least amount of grain, their progeny could reduce environmental impacts and save producers millions of dollars," Dr. Taylor said in a Mizzou press release.

Dr. Taylor's team includes scientists from the University of Illinois, Iowa State University, the University of Minnesota, the University of Nebraska, Texas A&M University, Washington State University, and USDA ARS.

Both grants also have substantial outreach and teaching components. Undergraduate, graduate, and veterinary students will be involved in the research and learn about feed efficiency and disease resistance during the five-year projects. The research teams will also use cattle in industry feedlots to contribute to farmers' and producers' knowledge of the problems and how to implement best practices to improve feed efficiency and reduce the prevalence of BRD.

The grants were awarded through NIFA's Agriculture and Food Research Initiative. AFRI is the institute's flagship competitive grants program to provide funding for fundamental and applied research, extension, and education. It was established under the 2008 Farm Bill. AFRI supports work in six priority areas, including animal health and production and animal products, agricultural systems and technology, and agricultural economics and rural communities. The long-term goal of this program is to increase global food availability through increased and sustainable food production with reduced losses.