PULLMAN, Wash. — Washington State University animal scientists will play key roles in two U.S. Department of Agriculture competitive grants totaling more than $14 million. They will unlock the genetics behind bovine respiratory disease (BRD) and feed efficiency with an eye toward bolstering the bottom line for dairy owners and cattle producers.
“The size and scope of these awards reflect the quality and expertise of scientists in our Department of Animal Sciences,” said Dan Bernardo, dean of the College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences. “Once completed, these projects will provide dramatic economic benefits to the $75 billion cattle and dairy industries throughout the United States.”
Approximately $2.9 million will come to WSU for the BRD project. Holly Neibergs, assistant professor and animal scientist, played a lead role in developing the project proposal. It focuses on identifying the genetic markers that indicate resistance or susceptibility to one of the most costly diseases in the cattle industry.
Specifically, Neibergs and the project team will examine 6,000 cattle from commercial feedlots and dairies throughout the U.S. They will use DNA analysis to determine the inheritance of resistance or susceptibility to BRD.
That information could help guide selective breeding of cattle to eventually eliminate the disease’s threat. BRD kills more than 1 million animals a year and results in the loss of $692 million.

Shannon Neibergs, WSU Extension specialist, will lead the economic research and 4-H youth development education components that are integral components of the project.
Other partners include lead institution Texas A&M University, University of California Davis, New Mexico State University, Colorado State University, the University of Wisconsin, and the USDA Agricultural Research Service unit in Beltsville, Md.
Another $450,000 will be awarded to WSU for participation in the feed efficiency in beef cattle project. Kris Johnson, WSU professor and animal scientist, and Holly Neibergs worked with Jeremy Taylor, professor and animal scientist at the University of Missouri, to develop that proposal.
The methodology is similar to that of the BRD project. The team will genotype 8,000 cattle and determine how genetic differences affect feed intake and efficiency.
Other partners in the feed efficiency grant include lead institution University of Missouri, University of Illinois, Iowa State University, University of Minnesota, University of Nebraska, Texas A&M and USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.
The two proposals were evaluated by separate review panels and funded separately but, because of similarities in design and common participants, the projects will coordinate some of their data collection, leading to more powerful and efficient studies using the grant funds.
Read an earlier related article here.