Area part of bovine disease research

Argen Duncan

The Portales and Clovis area is part of a nationwide research effort to address a bovine disease that can have significant impact on dairy and beef operations.

New Mexico State University and its Clovis-based Southern Great Plains Dairy Consortium are involved in a $9.75 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to research bovine respiratory disease and determine how to reduce its prevalence.

“The issue is really to understand it,” said NMSU Professor of Beef Cattle Physiology and Genetics Milt Thomas, co-principal investigator on the project.

Researchers are trying to learn about the disease’s long-term impacts, he said. Thomas estimated 25 or more scientists across the United States are involved.

When calves, the usual victims of the condition, contract bovine respiratory disease, it limits weight gain and carcass quality in beef cattle and milk production in dairy cattle, Thomas said.

NMSU Dairy Extension Specialist Robert Hagevoort of Clovis said BRD is one of the leading causes of death in dairy and beef cattle, and so causes significant economic loss for producers.

Roosevelt County dairy owner Alan Anderson said he didn’t have a lot of problems with BRD here, but it was more prevalent in his home state of Michigan due to drastic contrasts in weather and confined housing. His cattle receive vaccinations against the disease starting at birth.

Hagevoort said a research technician would start work in this area in a few weeks.

Thomas said the first three years of the five-year grant would go to collecting data and the analysis would begin in the last two years.

Researchers are to evaluate 500 New Mexico calves affected by BRD and 500 healthy ones, following them from birth through their first calving and beginning milk production. Thomas said the research would need more money to continue following the cattle after the five-year grant expires.

The DNA and data from the project will allow researchers to look for genetic markers that determine susceptibility to the disease, Thomas said. Hagevoort said genetic markers are important in finding cures.

“If you know the genetic markers, you can find a solution for the disease, like bovine respiratory disease,” he said.

Hagevoort said representatives of other institutions applied for the grant and asked NMSU to help with collecting data in the field.

“There’s a lot of different research projects going on throughout the country,” he said.

The large dairies in this area give researchers access to numerous calves under the same management system, which reduces variables in the research, Hagevoort said.

Also, he said the dairy teaching consortium he helps organize every year provides a way to get the results of the study to students going into the dairy industry.

Thomas said NMSU can also disseminate the information through its extension, or informal education, program, leading to producers sharing research with each other.