NEW VACCINE CENTRE WELCOMED
The Canadian Cattlemen s Association (CCA) welcomed the opening last month of the International Vaccine Centre (InterVac) at the University of Saskatchewan, a state-of-the-art facility that will help build Canada s critical research capacity in the prevention and control of infectious diseases that bridge animal and human health.
InterVac will be the only Level 3 containment laboratory in North America capable of securely accommodating large-animal clinical vaccine trials. As such it will facilitate the development and initial testing of vaccines under contained conditions in advance of commercial field trials.
The work carried out at the $140-million facility will enhance Canada s research capacity, improve our ability to prepare for emerging diseases and train specialized workers, says feedlot operator Brad Wildeman, a past chair of the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and current chair of Canada Beef, the industry s checkoff-funded marketing and research arm. InterVac will operate as part of VIDO.
Slated to be operational in 2012, the InterVac facility will be the largest of its kind in Canada and the only facility in Canada and the U.S. to house large animals. The funding for it came from a variety of sources, including $49 million from Ottawa and $57 million from the province of Saskatchewan.
The CCA greatly values VIDO s contributions to the beef industry, which include the development of effective vaccines to prevent economically important diseases affecting the cow-calf and feedlot sectors, says Wildeman. VIDO researchers are also working on bovine respiratory disease, mycoplasma pneumonia and Johne s disease with funding from the Beef Cattle Research Council.
PEERING AT GENES TO DETECT THE ORIGIN OF CATTLE DISEASES
Researchers at the USDA s Roman L. Hruska U.S. Meat Animal Research Center (USMARC) in Clay Center, Nebraska, have found genes associated with the incidence of pinkeye, foot rot, and bovine respiratory disease in a quantitative trait locus (QTL) on bovine chromosome 20.
Scientists have spent a lot of effort and money studying the pathogens that make animals sick, says geneticist Eduardo Casas, one of the scientists who made the discovery. We ve made a lot of progress, but the microbes are still around. Therefore, the main focus of this research was to look at diseases from the animal s point of view.
Casas approach involved looking at the genetic makeup of cattle for evidence of genes associated with resistance or tolerance to diseases. His initial study focused only on pinkeye because it s easy to see and measure in cattle.
Different breeds vary in their pinkeye tolerance. For example, Herefords are very susceptible, but Brahmans are highly resistant. With this in mind, a Brahman-Hereford crossbreed sire was mated to other breeds to yield more than 540 offspring.
This particular bull was heterozygous for all genes that would confer tolerance to pinkeye, Casas says. Half of the offspring inherited the resistant gene, and the other half inherited the susceptible gene. When scientists looked at 36 offspring affected by pinkeye, they found regions on chromosomes one and 20 harboured genes that influence the presence of bacteria, but no strong linkage to a QTL was identified.
Following up on a theory that the immune system is influenced by various genes, Casas and his collegue Gary Snowder conducted a second study looking at the incidence of three highly prevalent bacterial diseases affecting feedlot cattle pinkeye, foot rot, and bovine respiratory disease. When you put all three diseases together, you re looking at the overall health of the animal, or resistance to multiple diseases, rather than a disease-specific response, Snowder says. In other words, the particular loci affecting an individual disease may not be easy to pick up, but it might be easier to pick up markers that are related to the general health of the animal.
A common condition affecting breeding-age beef heifers, pinkeye has a marked economic impact on the cattle industry costing an estimated $150 million a year in the U.S. due to lower weight gains, decreased milk production, and treatment. Although not fatal, this highly contagious disease can affect up to 80 per cent of a herd.
Bovine respiratory disease pneumonia is the most common and costly feedlot disease in the U.S., accounting for 75 per cent of feedlot morbidity and up to 70 per cent of all deaths. Economic losses to U.S. cattle producers exceed $1 billion annually from animal deaths, reduced weight gain, lower feed efficiency, treatment costs, and poor-quality meat and hide products.
Producers have been managing these diseases with various treatments and management practices. USMARC, which has more than 6,000 head of cattle, provided an ideal location to study different breeds affected by pathogenic diseases.
In addition to the Brahman-Hereford family studied in the pinkeye experiment, three other half-sibling families were produced to detect QTLs associated with combined incidences of the three diseases.
The second half-sibling family was developed from a Brahman-Angus sire and produced 176 offspring. A Piedmontese-Angus sire fathered 209 calves, and a Belgian Blue-MARC III (part Red Poll, Pinzgauer, Hereford, and Angus) sire produced 246 offspring.
Researchers used microsatellite markers short, repetitive DNA sequences used as genetic markers to track inheritance to screen the genome of each family. Informative markers were chosen within a family based on their location in each chromosome.
All animals were observed daily throughout their lifespan for pinkeye, pneumonia, and foot rot and treated when symptoms occurred. The 240 calves infected by one or more of the diseases were classified as affected by a microbial pathogenic disease and coded. Analysis of DNA blood samples taken from these animals revealed QTLs for disease activity.
Though scientists have discovered genetic locations that may influence resistance or susceptibility to bacterial diseases, there s more to do.
We don t know what the gene or genes are yet, and that s what we are working on, Casas says. More study needs to be done to confirm the association between the genes and disease.
What s interesting about the markers on chromosome 20 is that they are in very close proximity to other markers related to other diseases. That particular region may have a significant effect on the general health of animals, Casas says.
Additional studies are underway to detect genes associated with reduced susceptibility to bacterial diseases, including Johne s disease and bovine viral diarrhea.
The costs for treating animals that have these diseases are enormous, Casas says. Identifying genes responsible would provide an opportunity for effective crossbreeding to produce animals with increased disease tolerance, which would greatly reduce the economic impact to the cattle industry.
WILL FOOT-AND-MOUTH DISEASE BE BEEF S BLACK SWAN?
Dr. Greg Douglas, Saskatchewan s chief veterinary officer, alludes to Nassim Taleb s Black Swan theory to drive home his message to producers about the importance of implementing biosecurity measures on their farms.
The Black Swan theory speaks to the disproportionately large impact unpredictable events have on shaping history. The First World War, 9-11, and the advent of personal computers and the Internet are commonly cited examples. These events are also characterized by a lot of rationalizing after the fact, mostly by experts trying to explain why they were taken by surprise.
Experts can t predict catastrophic events with any degree of accuracy. The same goes for any animal disease event, says Douglas. All we can do is employ strategies that help us prevent the event and then respond quickly if and when the event occurs.
The best historical and scientifiinformation available today points to the best disease control strategy being a layered approach: biosecurity at the farm, early detection by veterinarians and rapid response using traceability, movement controls and quarantines, along with timely communication with industry and customers.
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) ranks high on the watch list across North America and it would be considered a new disease in Canada, the U.S. and Mexico, which are FMD free at present with the last outbreaks in 1952, 1929, and 1954, respectively. Central America, Australia and New Zealand are other major beef producers in the same category.
FMD isn t a food safety or public health issue, since the virus only infects cloven-hoofed animals swine and ruminants but it still limits production and shuts down borders with devastating results.
Almost as quickly as a first case is announced in Canada, bans on our live ruminants, swine and meat (fresh and frozen), semen, embryos, hides, raw wool and all other products would spring up around the world. The movement of horses, poultry, dogs and cats not susceptible to the virus would still be prohibited for fear they may transport the virus on their bodies. An outbreak would have to be brought under control within six months to avoid significant losses.
The degree to which FMD limits production is somewhat controversial. The virus rarely kills animals, although younger ones are more likely to show signs of illness and, or die from it than mature animals. It s people who cause the large losses by resorting to emergency slaughter of infected and susceptible herds to contain the disease.
These welfare culls raise a whole other set of concerns. First they potentially wipe out important genetics, and then there is the worry over the public s reaction to them. North Americans of today may not accept this mass disposal of animals. As a result there has been a change in the thinking about the use of vaccination to head off FMD outbreaks.
Historically, vaccination was avoided because it gave every animal a titre making it impossible to separate vaccinates from FMD carriers. More recently, vaccination has been used to control outbreaks or as a long-term control strategy after an outbreak and the OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) has created an FMD-free-with- vaccination category for trading purposes. Unfortunately, few countries have been willing to accept the risk of buying vaccinated animals or their products.
No single vaccine protects against all seven known types and more than 60 subtypes of FMD viruses. Since Canada shares a vaccine bank with the U.S. and Mexico, quantities of the specifi vaccine required might be limited should an outbreak occur in North America.
FMD virus is present in the tissues and secretions of infected animals and can survive outside the body under extremely harsh conditions, including freezing. It enters the body through mucous membranes or cuts and is easily transmitted animal to animal or on contaminated bedding, feed, water, facilities, equipment, vehicles, clothing, footwear, clinging to dust blowing in the wind or on infected meat and products such as bone marrow and hides.
Imported meat sits on Canadian docks every day making it highly probable that there is FMD-contaminated meat somewhere in Canada at any given time. Exposure to a susceptible population is all it would take to trigger an outbreak.
Preventing that exposure is largely in the hands of producers and their veterinarians. The new national beef biosecurity standard that is being developed will provide some tools for setting up on-farm biosecurity programs. But the first line of defence remains individual vigilance.
FMD is a reportable disease meaning veterinarians must immediately notify the CFIA when they come across suspicious cases. This federal agency implements control measures but the provinces are responsible for the proper disposal of carcasses and contaminated materials.
FMD was the sole topic of discussion at the fourth annual Cross-Border Animal Health Conference at Portland, Oregon in July. The conference was established to better co-ordinate the livestock disease control efforts of authorities in Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington, Alaska, British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan and the Yukon Territory. Next year s meeting will be held in Saskatoon.
Douglas, who co-chaired the conference, says three action items were agreed upon in Portland:
1. The need to pursue electronic certifi cation as a means to accelerate live animal trade. Collaboration between the U.S. and Canada in sharing electronic information could streamline the whole process of moving animals
and animal products. 2. The need to work toward formally recognizing zoning and regionalization between Canada and the U.S. It s important that the normalization of trade be a priority during any foreign animal disease outbreak or investigation.
3. The need to expand the understanding of the role that vaccination may play in the control of an FMD outbreak in Canada or the U.S. During the next year, officials in both countries must consult with stakeholders on the potential and the process for FMD vaccination.
NEW TECHNOLOGY FOR RFID TAGS TO BE TESTED
The Alberta Meat and Livestock Agency has awarded a grant of $950,000 to the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) Polytechnics school of manufacturing and automation to field test ultra-high-frequency radio-frequency identification (UHF RFID) tags along with the hardware and software developed by SAIT students.
There are many radio-frequency technologies and some are better suited for certain applications than others, explains Glen Kathler, applied research chair of RFID application development at SAIT. In all their RFID work the school tries as much as possible to design solutions for Alberta business and industry.
About three years ago, Kathler connected with Livestock Identification Services and began learning how the livestock industry uses radio-frequency technology. Visits to farms, feedlots, auction markets and packing plants revealed frustrations in using the current low-frequency (LF) radio-frequency tags and readers. With this understanding of how business happens, the students investigated which type of radio-frequency technology would be best suited to assist the livestock industry.
LF was the first radio-frequency technology invented about 30 years ago, Kathler explains. It operates off a magnetic field and was designed to read one tag at a time. It does a great job of that, irrespective of the surrounding environment, but it was never intended to read multiple tags at one point in time.
UHF is the latest in radio-frequency technology, introduced around 2003. Operating purely as a radio signal, its maximum read capability is 800 tags a second and SAIT students have proven that it is capable of reading 500 tags a second in a lab setting. UHF tag design is more specific to its environment than LF, therefore, one of the elements of the field trial will be to determine how well UHF tags operate in the cattle environment, Kathler adds.
The reason UHF technology has advanced so quickly is that many large industries and retail businesses have made investments in research and development. The uptake of the technology has grown by 200 per cent in each of the past two years with approximately two billion tags incorporating UHF technology sold globally last year.
This demand has driven down the price of the UHF inlay, the coil wire that acts as the antenna attached to the electronic chip inside the device, Kathler explains. The lower the frequency, the more wire is required. There are basically three forms for LF technology: a button as seen in current livestock tags, an inlay such as a credit card installation, and the subcutaneous capsule for pet tags. The inlay for UHF technology requires very little wire relative to that of LF technology and with about 96 per cent of the RFID applications worldwide being non-animal identification, the forms UHF can take are almost endless.
Competition amongst the nine manufacturers of UHF equipment in North America has also driven down the cost of readers. The Alberta auction market traceability study stated markets could spend $50,000 to install a four-panel, wide-alley reader system for LF tags. A similar setup to read UHF tags would cost in the neighbourhood of $5,000 to $10,000, Kathler says. SAIT students are investigating ways to adapt wand readers to read both LF and UHF tags.
Kathler says UHF tags should be priced about the same as the current LF tags, depending on the uptake from industry in Canada and other countries.
As a technical institute, SAIT doesn t spin off companies to commercialize its research. Suffice to say there has been a lot of interest from existing tag companies, but Kathler says he will proceed cautiously on this front because their product has been developed to meet identified needs of Alberta s livestock industry. It would be very discouraging if those characteristics were to be altered by a company manufacturing the tags elsewhere.
To ease the regulatory approval process, the school has followed the Canadian Cattle Identification Agency tag guidelines. The students have also been experimenting with various plastics to find the secret sauce to improve durability and retention. If, during the field trials, they determine that a part of the tag could be improved, Kathler says they can make changes on the fly because the tags can be manufactured right on campus.
The prototypes and participants in the trials were to be confirmed this month. But a dairy farm, a packer and a couple of cow-calf producers, feedlots and auction markets had already expressed interest in participating in this study.
10 ALBERTA COLONIES ENROL ON VBP
If a program is measured by the support it receives, the Verified Beef Production (VBP) program just got stronger in Alberta. By the summer of 2011, a total of 10 of the province s Hutterite colonies had joined the official national beef on-farm food safety program and advanced to the voluntary audit stage.
That s a substantial endorsement of the industry s efforts to continually strengthen on-farm food safety, says Eileen Leslie, provincial co-ordinator for the VBP program in Alberta. Our Hutterite Colonies are typically well-managed progressive operations, and the commitment of this many colonies to documenting on-farm beef food safety is exactly the kind of producer attitude our industry can build upon.
The VBP program establishes a set of standard operating procedures or SOPs, designed to ensure that proper food safety procedures are being followed in beef production. The program advocates strong record-keeping to provide clear documentation that SOPs are followed. It also offers an optional process whereby operations can undergo a third-party assessment confirming good adoption of the program, and can earn registered VBP status as a result.
While each colony operates on its own, a quick check shows some common threads among the reasons they give for signing up for VBP.
Pine Haven Colony, near Wetaskiwin, slaughters its own beef and is building a reputation for marketing the product directly to consumers. The colony is an early adopter of the VBP program and sees first hand the value it offers at both levels.
It s important for us to have clear, effective protocols to support good management and get consistent results in our products, says spokesman William Hofer. It also really helps our marketing to be able to show this to our customers. We believe it s the way of doing things for the future.
Pine Haven Colony feeds 3,200 head annually and runs a 400-head cow-calf operation. Both are registered with VBP.
Morinville Colony operates on a smaller scale but was the second colony in the province to become VBP registered. The reasons for getting on board are simple, says Jonathan Wurz. It s better for records. It supports safe beef.
Morrinville s 200-head cow-calf operation is run by Wurz and two other workers. VBP helps them keep organized and identify simple ways to fine tune their processes. It s not a lot of extra work, says Wurz. The program is step by step and easy to follow.
He also believes that food safety protocols such as VBP are going to become more common with the increased focus on food safety. We figured if we get a head start and get familiar with it there s an advantage to that.
Another early adopter is O.B. Colony near Marwayne. Gideon Hofer says the program is made up of common-sense approaches and signing on was an easy decision. It s a good way to make sure the beef we raise and put on the shelf is up to high standards.
Adopting the program provided peace of mind that things were being done the right way, in line with well-accepted HACCP approaches and other industry best practices, says Hofer. We ve found it has very good structure and a lot of good reminders and good precautions.
The decision to adopt VBP was a quick one for Codesa Colony. When we first learned about the program, we were in the process of shipping cattle, says Steven Wipf. We saw the protocols would help us with that job and others. There was no reason to wait and see. We were ready for it.
That feeling is echoed by Johnathan Tschetter at Birch Hills Colony, who found little to argue with after learning about VBP through workshops. We just want good management practices. Learning ways to improve is good. Everything in the program is things we should be doing.
Tschetter also appreciated that the program helps the colony be more self-reliant. We re not wondering what is the best way or relying on advice. It gives us more control.
A VISIT TO LADIES LIVESTOCK LESSONS
A round of cupcakes marked the fifth anniversary of Ladies Livestock Lessons (LLL), held this year at Camp Kindle near Water Valley, Alta.
LLL is actually the youngest of three similar events organized each year by the municipal counties and Cows and Fish (Alberta Riparian Habitat Management Society), explains Sarah Schumacher, Wheatland County s agricultural conservation and communications co-ordinator, who has been involved with LLL since its inception. Each of the events takes the form of an overnight camp at the Original Grazing School for Women held in a northern location, the Southern Alberta Grazing School for Women in the south, and LLL in central Alberta.
Schumacher has been involved in organizing all kinds of extension events and typically finds women make up a relatively small percentage of those in attendance. Which is why these events are designed specially for women.
An overnight camp venue seems to fit the bill and enrolment at all three events is maxed out at 40 almost every year. This year was an exception with everyone busy playing catch-up due to the late spring.
The schools attract women of all ages and experience. At this year s LLL, some women were fairly new to the livestock industry, having recently married a rancher or established a new operation. Those with more experience are of the mind that there s always something new to be learned.
According to their evaluations they feel less intimidated speaking out and asking questions in small groups of other women.
The usefulness of the information delivered and the opportunity to try their hand at some of the skills are also appreciated. Aside from the formal sessions, finding inspiration from talking with other women in agriculture rates high in the feedback.
The social side is a definite draw and those who ve attended several camps say they look forward to reconnecting with friends from previous camps.
The one aspect that doesn t escape mentioning is that it s like an all-inclusive two-day getaway with room, meals, entertainment and activities, all for a most reasonable price of $105 this year. It s really a chance to focus on agriculture without the everyday distractions, a place to become re-energized and return home with new ideas.
Schumacher says they try to change up the agenda from year to year, but it always includes sessions on riparian health and tame or native range health covering plant and weed identification put on by resource people from Cows and Fish and Alberta Sustainable Resource Development. Hands-on activities generally include sessions on fencing and watering systems.
Animal health and livestock handling are popular topics. This year s presenter Dylan Biggs, demonstrated low-impact livestock handling with a group of yearlings from horseback. Working stock dog demonstrations are also popular.
Often ranchers will talk about projects they have tried. Gardening with low-water-use plants (xeriscaping), edible native plants, grazing management, species-at-risk and watershed initiatives are a few examples.
Women talking about their own ranching experiences goes over well. This year at LLL, Genuine Cowgirls out of Big Valley, Alta. ( www.genuinecowgirls.ca), filled that role, sharing songs from their first album, Songs from the Saddle Shop released this year, and their personal thoughts about everyday ranching life.
For more information on Ladies Livestock Lessons, contact Sarah Schumacher 403-934-3321,www.ladieslivestocklessons. blogspot.com.
The Original Grazing School for Women (north), Kerri O Shaughnessy, 780-427-7940, [email protected]
Southern Alberta Grazing School for women, Norine Ambrose, 403-381-5538, [email protected]