Vet Call: The role of research in the future of beef production

By Dr. Bob Larson, DVM
Reprinted with permission from the Angus Journal.

Known cattle production efficiency and health problems, new challenges and opportunities, changing economic and societal situations, and human curiosity all drive the need for beef cattle research. Recognizing the need for research means that cattle producers, scientists, and many other stake-holders agree that there are opportunities to improve diverse areas of cattle health and well-being, production, and economics. From a veterinary perspective, investigations of management, genetic selection, and technology interventions to increase reproductive efficiency, improve forage utilization, increase disease avoidance, and enhance disease treatment effectiveness are exciting areas of research. Because of ongoing research, veterinarians and beef cattle producers can look forward to having more information and new tools to improve cattle health and well-being, production efficiency, and long-term sustainability.

Careful and accurate observation of cattle and their environments plays an essential role in scientific research, but observation alone will not lead to new understanding about how to improve cattle production. Research combines careful observation with specific strategies to account for the natural variation that occurs when different individual cattle are treated identically, and with methods to limit unintended biases from interfering with a true interpretation of how cattle behave and respond to different environments and treatments.

The reason that cattle research must be carefully planned is that cattle health and well-being and production efficiency are influenced by a complex interaction of many biologic and economic factors. The biologic factors include: cattle genetics, forage quality and availability, the presence and types of different disease risks, the varying impact of temperature, humidity, and other environmental features on different cattle, how cattle respond to the stresses they encounter, and many other factors. Observations of relatively few animals or observations taken over a short period of time often fail to allow a person to accurately understand the many factors that interact to cause an outcome.

Because of these challenges, even very well-planned research projects can only answer one or two fairly limited questions at a time. But a long-term approach to solving the important questions facing cattle veterinarians and producers through a series of studies carried out on a variety of cattle types, ages, and environments, slowly allows researchers to build an understanding of the interacting factors that can be managed to improve cattle production.

Some of the interesting areas being researched now include: investigations into the role that genetics plays on which cattle are most likely to be resistant to various diseases, research comparing the ability of diagnostic tests to more accurately identify cattle that can spread disease to other animals, and comparisons between different methods of preventing or treating diseases that commonly affect cattle. In addition, there are very interesting investigations that ask if managing cattle in certain ways will enhance their ability to graze and utilize available forages, other studies concerned with finding how cattle best utilize different types of feeds, and studies that investigate how nutrition at one stage of life affect other stages of life (even years later). There are also exciting areas of research to improve reproductive efficiency of cattle by investigating more accurate ways to sort bulls into high- and low-reproductively sound classifications, to enhance the fertility of cows, and to reduce the risk of abortion in pregnant cows. Many studies are looking for ways to utilize new technologies such as computers, genetic testing, GPS tracking, and miniature robots to improve cattle production. Other areas of study include investigations of cattle behavior, grazing patterns, rumen function, growth efficiency, response to vaccinations, and resistance to disease based on time-tested production methods.

Regardless of the area being studied, research is a slow, step-by-step process with very few leaps in new knowledge. But the results of multiple well-planned research studies evaluated over time and across different production situations gradually adds to our understanding of the factors that impact cattle health and well-being and production efficiency. Current cattle producers and veterinarians benefit from many decades of research that has provided valuable strategies and tools that are used daily. The research that is being conducted today will provide additional breakthroughs in the coming years.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. His area of specialization is the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production. and a faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. This column is reprinted and redistributed with permission from the Angus Journal

Research Update: Beating BRD

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

Bovine respiratory disease (BRD) is one of the most common –– and one of the most costly –– diseases affecting North American feedlots. The USDA-APHIS (Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service) reports that more than 21% of cattle are affected by BRD, and previous estimates of the annual economic losses due to death, reduced feed efficiency and treatment cost related to the disease are between $800-900 million.

A recent study conducted by Dr. Dustin Pendell, associate professor of agricultural economics and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute, and Kamina Johnson, USDA-APHIS, focused on discussions surrounding new technologies and management strategies that could result in lower BRD prevalence.

“Kamina and I were interested in understanding how a new technology or management program with widespread adoption would affect the beef industry and allied industries,” Dr. Pendell says. A better understanding of the impacts of BRD on beef and allied industries should lead to better decisions being made.

Reduction of BRD prevalence in feedlots translates to an increase in the supply of beef due to lower morbidity and mortality, Dr. Pendell explains. “With an increase in beef cattle supplies, there is a higher demand for feedstuffs leading to higher feedstuff prices.”

Of course, increased cattle supply and downward pressure on beef prices means a loss in returns to beef cattle producers. The silver lining lies with consumers, who benefit from lower beef prices.

“The positive impact on consumers outweighs the negative impact on producers, resulting in an overall positive net impact to society,” Dr. Pendell says.

Early adoption has benefits
“With new technologies related to animal health issues, there will be some winners and some losers,” Dr. Pendell says. “Although the aggregated U.S. beef cattle industry sees a negative return, it is most likely that the early adopters will experience positive returns.”

Market impacts of reducing BRD in feedlots result in lower prices on beef cattle due to increased supply. More beef cattle means higher demand for feedstuffs (and higher prices for feedstuffs, providing greater profits to those producers). As the supply of beef cattle increases and puts downward pressure on the price of beef, consumers will substitute away from other protein sources (pork, poultry and lamb) to beef.

“This information will hopefully help the industry better understand how new technologies and management strategies that come online for BRD, or any other animal health issue, will impact not only their industry, but the allied industries as well in terms of both the magnitude and scope,” Dr. Pendell says.

See the published research paper.

Dr. Dustin Pendell is an associate professor of agricultural economics with Kansas State University and a faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. His areas of specialization include animal identification and traceability, animal health economics, and livestock and meat economics.

BCI Explains: Pregnancy Analytics

By Shelby Mettlen, communications and marketing specialist

“Reproduction is critical to cow-calf profitability,” says Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine and associate with the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University (K-State). “It’s what really drives our clients’ profitability. When we look at veterinary practices, pregnancy checking is usually the No. 1 income generator for bovine veterinary practices.”
The BCI’s Pregnancy Analytics platform, including both the app and the soon-to-come desktop-friendly dashboard, offers what veterinarians and cattle producers want to see first: An assessment of the herd’s reproductive success.

The app

The beauty of the BCI’s Pregnancy Analytics app is chute-side data, Larson says. The app creates customized charts with information including the number of cows that became pregnant within the first 21 days of the breeding season based on age, body condition score (BCS) and a custom category determined by the client. It’s all available as soon as the sleeve comes off.

“It tells you who and when cows did not become pregnant,” Larson says. “It gives me more information than simply “twelve percent of my cows didn’t get pregnant. Now I know when cows didn’t get pregnant, and I know which cows, when, didn’t get pregnant.”

Enriching the practice

The Pregnancy Analytics platform gives veterinarians a way to add value to pregnancy diagnosis, he says. “Identifying open cows has value, but using the additional information provided by the platform is information you can use to both problem solve and plan for the future.”
“I can look at the app and easily determine that, ‘Oh, [my cows] didn’t breed well in the last two weeks of June. That guides me to ask ‘What happened in the last two weeks of June?’ This type of information helps to ask better questions and to provide better answers.”
The platform assists the veterinarian, the producer and the university. The veterinarian is better able to serve his clients, the producer has a tool to improve herd fertility, and BCI receives useful data for creating benchmarks and evaluating a wide variety of herds.
That is, if you share your data. Veterinarians can opt out of sharing their data with BCI and the app will maintain complete functionality, except for the ability to compare to benchmarks.

Real-world data

“If you don’t share your data, you don’t get the benchmarks,” Larson points out. BCI uses the data collected from ranches and veterinarians using the app to create benchmarks that compare the current herd to herds in the top one-third. “We think that comparing to the top one-third of herds provides a better goal than comparing to the average herd,” he says.
The Pregnancy Analytics app has garnered thousands of downloads and serves hundreds of active users across Kansas. It’s available for use on both Android and Apple devices through Google Play and the App Store. For more information on our mobile apps, click here.

Dr. Larson is a professor of production medicine with the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University, Edgar E. and Elizabeth Coleman Chair of Food Animal Production Medicine, executive director of Veterinary Medical Continuing Education, and faculty member with the Beef Cattle Institute. His area of specialization is the integration of animal health, production efficiency and economic considerations in beef cattle production.

K-State’s Cattlemen’s Day helps producers look forward

By K-State Research and Extension

Nearly 800 gather for 105th annual event

MANHATTAN, Kan. – Nearly 800 cattle producers and beef industry supporters from Kansas and surrounding states were on hand for the 105th annual Cattlemen’s Day at Kansas State University on March 2.

K-State agricultural economist Glynn Tonsor and newly-confirmed U.S. Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud highlighted the event’s general session, outlining many of the key factors that affect trade in agriculture and other industries around the world.

Doud, a native Kansan and K-State graduate whose appointment as chief agricultural negotiator was finalized just one day earlier, gave a talk based on years of experience in international trade, most recently as president of the Commodity Markets Council.

Tonsor is widely recognized for his work in tracking the economic outlook in the beef industry. During the session, he helped paint the picture of the importance of international trade as U.S. producers expand the beef herd.

“We got a good feel for the potential going forward for beef and all proteins, not only domestically, but in the export markets,” said Matt Teagarden, the chief executive officer for the Kansas Livestock Association, who attended the session.

“I think as you look at some of those supply projections, not only for beef but also the other proteins, it drives home the importance of working with consumers not only in the states, but also around the world to make sure we’ve got a market for those coming supplies,” Teagarden said.

Read the full release here.

BCI co-hosts Cow-Calf Conference

By the Beef Cattle Institute

The Beef Cattle Institute and College of Veterinary Medicine partner for annual conference.

The Kansas State University (K-State) College of Veterinary Medicine, together with the Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) hosted the college’s annual Cow-Calf Conference Feb. 16, 2018, at the University’s Stanley Stout Center in Manhattan, Kansas. Faculty and staff from the BCI, College of Veterinary Medicine, College of Agriculture, and K-State Research and Extension covered topics on using information technology to enhance veterinary services to cow-calf herds.

The program welcomed students and veterinarians to its conference with information varying from how to use websites like the Department of Agricultural Economics’ to updates on the BCI’s emerging dashboards.

Presenters included:
Dr. Bob Weaber, professor and beef extension specialist, animal sciences and industry
Dr. A.J. Tarpoff, professor and extension beef veterinarian, animal sciences and industry
Dr. Gregg Hanzlicek, assistant professor, Veterinary Diagnostic Lab
Dr. Dustin Pendell, associate professor, agricultural economics
Dr. Glynn Tonsor, professor, agricultural economics
Dr. Brad White, director, BCI
Dr. Bob Larson, professor of production medicine, clinical sciences
Dr. David Amrine, research director, BCI
Dr. Sandy Johnson, extension specialist and professor, animal sciences and industry
Patti Dollarhide, director of value chain alliances, BCI
Dr. Carl Meyer, DVM, Oskaloosa Animal Clinic
Steve Johnson, computer systems manager/analyst, University of Nebraska Great Plains Veterinary Educational Center

“This conference was a good opportunity to discuss how veterinary practitioners are using a variety of tools to help make decisions with their clients,” said Dr. Brad White, director. “The Beef Cattle Institute is focused on created solutions that lead to actionable information for producers and veterinarians.”

The conference is intended to provide resources to veterinarians who need trusted information regarding cattle health, reproduction, synchronization protocols, bull selection and expected progeny differences (EPDs), writing veterinary feed directives (VFDs), market forces and other important aspects of livestock production.

“Beef producers look to their veterinarian for information about cattle health, reproduction, nutrition and other aspects of operating sustainable livestock operations,” said Dr. Bob Larson, professor. “This conference helped veterinarians identify valuable online resources available from K-State that can assist them as they address their clients’ needs. The Beef Cattle Institute, the Kansas State Veterinary Diagnostic Laboratory, the Department of Animal Sciences and Industry, the Department of Agricultural Economics, and K-State Extension all provide useful websites, downloadable smart phone apps, management decision calculators, and up-to-date information from research performed at land grant universities across the country. The ability to access and utilize these resources when making recommendations or guiding decisions at the herd level increases the value that veterinarians provide for their clients.”

Topics and resources:

Beef Cattle Institute
Pregnancy Analytics app and VFD app
Animal Care Training/AABP and AVC continuing education

K-State Research & Extension
K-State Research and Extension Beef website
Management Minder, Estrus Synchronization Planner, AI Cowculator

College of Veterinary Medicine
KSVDL website and app and
CONSULT programs

Department of Agricultural Economics
Cow Calf 5 (Great Plains Veterinary Education Center)