With an eye toward bolstering cattle producers’ bottom line, a multidisciplinary team of WSU researchers is finding ways to reduce preventable disease and associated economic losses.
 
“If we can improve the efficiency of production through better disease management, that will have a positive gain to producers and then an indirect gain to consumers,” said WSU Extension economist and associate professor Shannon Neibergs.
 
Conducted to educate producers about bovine viral diarrhea (BVD), examine the prevalence of the disease, and identify genetic regions associated with susceptibility and resistance, the WSU BVD research project is in its final stages.
 
Furthermore, the economic data collected from participating ranches is helping Neibergs develop an economic model that illustrates the effects of transferring a calf persistently infected (PI) with BVD through the production chain.
 
Holly Neibergs discusses cattle
genetics with a student.
Fellow team members Holly Neibergs, assistant professor of animal science, John Wenz, assistant professor of Veterinary Field Disease Investigative Unit, and Dale Moore, clinical professor and director of Veterinary Medicine Extension, also plan to develop educational information leading to a market price premium for calves determined to be PI-free based on solid management and bio-security practices.
 
Wenz Moore
BVD is a common infectious disease that, in most cases, only affects cattle for about two weeks. However, if a pregnant animal is exposed to the viral agent during early gestation, she runs the risk of producing a PI calf because its immune system never develops the antibodies necessary to fight the disease. Such a calf will carry BVD for the rest of its life, constantly shedding the virus and infecting other animals.
 
An animal with acute BVD lacks appetite and converts more of its food energy into an immune response than a healthy animal, resulting in reduced weight gain during its time in the feedlot. One PI animal transferred into a feedlot translates to losses of $28-$40 per infected animal.
 
Preventing BVD begins by vaccinating and testing breeding stock before the breeding season.
 
“By selecting for animals that are less likely to contract the disease and by employing best disease and health management practices, you’ll have a more profitable outcome,” Neibergs said.