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Research leading to tools for managing bovine respiratory disease complex

MANHATTAN, KAN. -- Bovine respiratory disease complex has multiple causes. It's sometimes hard to classify and predict. It also costs the beef industry more than any other disease -- an estimated $690 million in 2006, according to one report.

That's why a team of Kansas State University researchers is stepping in. Using a three-year, $375,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the team is analyzing data from feedlots to develop decision-making tools that will make it easier for producers to manage the health of their cattle.

The research team is led by K-State College of Veterinary Medicine's David Renter, assistant professor of diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, and Brad White, assistant professor of clinical sciences. Using existing data, the researchers are working toward several objectives, including developing a system to classify distributions of disease events within feedlot pens. The researchers also are working toward generating estimates of what effect certain risk factors have on the multifaceted bovine respiratory disease complex. By better understanding the data, the researchers hope to create decision-making tools that will let feedlot producers compare their data with the average and therefore make more informed decisions about managing and treating their herds.

With cooperation from producers, the researchers are looking at data that feedlots collect, such as how many cattle get sick and when the problems are most likely to occur. The problem, Renter said, is that it is challenging for feedlots to analyze this information on a daily basis. Rather, they take data that is cumulative over an entire feeding period. The ability to analyze data in real time could lead to effective treatment and disease management decisions, he said.

"In terms of a system, right now there's not something producers can go to like software that tells them that cattle in this particular pen are experiencing more disease than expected, for instance," Renter said.

Producers are somewhat able to predict which cattle are likely to get sick. But bovine respiratory disease complex has so many variables that this isn't easy.

"It's not a simple, contagious infection like the chicken pox," Renter said.

Instead, bovine respiratory disease complex is caused by multiple pathogens, both viruses and bacteria, that are commonly found in the feedlot. Some of them can even be cultured from healthy cattle. Also, factors like immunity, feed intake and even the weather can influence which cattle get sick, as can stressors like being weaned or moved from farm to feedlot.

"Part of the cost associated to producers is that we can't predict as well as we want to," Renter said. "There's so much variability in how many cattle will get sick."

Renter said the research done at K-State will supplement the work being done by producers and consulting veterinarians. What makes the research at K-State so valuable is that the team is looking at data from multiple sources, and the researchers will share their tools with people in the industry. With the groundwork laid by researchers at K-State, further work could yield software or other decision-making tools, Renter said.


Contact: David Renter
Kansas State University

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