“Genomics allow us to look ‘under the hood’ of an animal so to speak,” said Alison Van Eenennaam with University of California-Davis as she addressed Cattlemen’s College attendees Feb. 1 at the 2017 Cattle Industry Convention in Nashville, Tenn.

Van Eenennaam provided an overview of the history in DNA sequencing that has brought the industry to where it is today, and commended breed associations for the incorporation of genomic information into their national cattle evaluation programs.

That said, Van Eenennaam said a hindrance for the future is collection of new data to develop new trait selection tools for fertility, feed efficiency or disease traits not currently represented in the national cattle evaluation.

But a five-year USDA funded project is helping address that data hindrance at least with regard to bovine respiratory disease (BRD). Titled the Bovine Respiratory Disease Complex (BRDC) Coordinated Agricultural Project (CAP), the effort is a collaboration among researchers at Texas A&M University (TAMU); Washington State University (WSU); University of California-Davis (UC Davis); New Mexico State University, (NMSU);  Colorado State University (CSU); University of Missouri (MU); USDA’s Agricultural Research Service; and Gene Seek Inc. of Lincoln, NE.

Van Eenennaam explains the focus on BRD is important as it is the number one disease challenge for the US cattle industry – with a 16.2% national prevalence of BRD in the feedlot. An economic cost of $253.97/per BRD feedlot steer is estimated as a result of loss of carcass quality, death and treatment costs. She also shares that there are as many cattle dying from respiratory disease today as there were 30 years ago – despite advances in vaccines and technology.

Van Eenennamm says ultimately the goal of the BRD Coordinated Agricultural Project is to identify genetic markers that can be used to select for healthier cattle, specifically those that are less susceptible to BRD.

She states, “Our premise is that using genetic selection is a better solution to BRD than antibiotic therapy. A BRD EPD is our goal at the end of the day.”

Getting to that point is no small undertaking. Van Eenennamm explains that thousands of BRD observations are needed, and thus collaboration with several universities is also necessary. Additionally, because diagnosis of the disease is not, in her words “black and white,” an objective scoring system to consistently identify BRD had to be developed. (Learn more about the resulting scoring system at: https://www.vetmed.wisc.edu/dms/fapm/fapmtools/8calf/calf_respiratory_scoring_chart.pdf)

Trials with both dairy and beef cattle are included in the effort. Beef animals included 1000 case animals in Washington and 1000 in Colorado – and 1000 controls in each of those projects as well. 

While a BRD EPD is still several years away, initial results are indicating BRD incidence is about 20% heritable, according to Van Eenennamm. While she acknowledges this is a low heritability, she says it is “better than nothing” and can still begin making a difference. She notes, “We won’t have bullet-proof cattle, but can select cattle that are less likely to get sick if you treat them properly.”

Additionally, as the genetic selection ability for BRD resistance becomes available in the future, Van Eenennnamm believes there may be premiums for cow-calf producers that add this trait to their selection pressure.

Learn more about the project at http://BRD Complex.org. Additional information about research efforts focused on developing genetic tests for other economically important traits including feed efficiency and reproduction can be viewed at http://eBeef.org.