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Animal Health, Animal Models

Posted by | February 9, 2011

WSU Researchers Focus on Disease Management in Cattle Production

WSU animal scientist Holly Neiburgs discusses cattle genetics with a student.
WSU animal scientist Holly Neiburgs discusses cattle genetics with a student.

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 loss. 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 Shannon Neibergs. Fellow team members Holly Neibergs from the Department of Animal Sciences, John Wenz from the Veterinary Field Disease Investigative Unit, and Dale Moore from Veterinary Medicine Extension, agree.

The team’s focus on bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) shows promising results. BVD is a common infectious disease and, 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 calf that is persistently infected (PI) with the virus 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.

Conducted to educate producers, examine the prevalence of the disease, identify genetic regions associated with susceptibility and resistance, and produce economic models that demonstrate its impact, the WSU BVD research project is in its final stages. The economic data collected from participating ranches is helping Neibergs develop an economic model that illustrates the effects of transferring a PI calf through the production chain.

Conducted to educate producers, examine the prevalence of the disease, identify genetic regions associated with susceptibility and resistance, and produce economic models that demonstrate its impact, the WSU BVD research project is in its final stages. The economic data collected from participating ranches is helping Neibergs develop an economic model that illustrates the effects of transferring a PI calf through the production chain.

With a potential 80 percent survival rate at weaning for a PI calf, the economic cost of the disease depends on its prevalence in a cow-calf operation herd. If a PI calf survives to weaning and enters the production chain, where animals are co-mingled from several sources and are more tightly concentrated, it will infect a larger population.

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.

Neibergs and his colleagues 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.

By Michelle Burns, WSU CAHNRS MNEC intern

No More Storks: Education and Animal Physiology Combine to Bust Myths of Reproduction

Doctoral student Angela Oki is innovating learning technologies to teach reproductive physiology and health.
Doctoral student Angela Oki is innovating learning technologies to teach reproductive physiology and health.

An interdisciplinary, public-private research project merging reproductive physiology with educational technologies shows promise for use in a wide range of disciplines. “There is a lot of overlap in the reproductive physiology of humans and animals, so it’s not hard to jump between the two,” said Angela Oki, a WSU doctoral student conducting the research. Using 2-D and 3-D animations, educational modules have been developed to teach various processes associated with reproductive physiology. The video modules are much like chapters in a textbook, taking learners step by step through the information.

In addition to being a full-time graduate student in the WSU Department of Animal Sciences, Oki is also a full-time employee of the Pullman-based publishing company Current Conceptions, Inc. Current Conceptions, the producer of a widely adopted textbook on animal reproductive physiology, collaborated with WSU and other universities to test the learning modules. “I develop educational material in the form of multimedia modules to teach a given concept of reproductive physiology,” Oki said. “I then look at the learning gains of people after they have seen it.”

Oki’s research includes testing the effectiveness of these learning modules in comparison with other common learning scenarios. Around 800 participants were enlisted from universities and medical clinics. The goal of the research is to increase general scientific literacy by explaining reproductive physiological processes, such as birth, to individuals without a science background. “There is a need out there to bust some of the myths associated with conception and other physiological processes,” Oki said.

Oki found that when tested on students in reproductive physiology courses, teaching with the learning modules could be more effective than traditional lectures. Similarly, a study conducted in an OB/GYN office demonstrated that patients understood more from using the learning modules than reading a pamphlet on identical material.

While she is being mentored by faculty in the Department of Animal Sciences, Oki is also collaborating with faculty in WSU’s College of Education on the development of more learning modules. Incorporation of techniques from education and media research contributes to the effectiveness of the modules as teaching and learning tools.

Currently, Oki and her colleagues are developing modules that include lessons on breast feeding and assisted reproduction technologies. In the future, Oki said, “I would like to see these modules used for patient education or continuing education credit programs for nurses and veterinarians.”

By Michelle Burns, WSU CAHNRS MNEC intern