subject: livestock

Fighting the Resistome

Fighting the Resistome

We are incredibly lucky. We live at a time when antibiotics work their magic saving people from infections. Only a few generations ago, infections reigned supreme and struck down some people in most families. It had always been that way, but memory quickly fades. Modern society assumes that the effectiveness of antibiotics is here to stay—it’s a monument to human ingenuity. However, the continuing emergence of antibiotic-resistant microbes and the lack of new antibiotics in the developmental cupboard are looming threats to human health, and a stark reminder that today’s respite from infection could easily be temporary. Read More...

Cows May Go Green

Cows May Go Green

It’s a tough gig being a cow. Productivity expectations for meat and milk are high, and at the same time, the cow gets a bad rap for belching a potent greenhouse gas, methane, which is a by-product of its digestion. Some people say it’s like driving a car very hard on a winding mountain road and then complaining about the car’s increased exhaust gas emissions. Reducing emissions and fuel consumption while maintaining performance is the golden ambition of car manufacturers. A similar goal is also true for the cow. People in many government agricultural agencies and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) want the beef and dairy industries to use more productive cattle emitting less methane and using less feed i.e., increasing industry production efficiency while decreasing its environmental footprint. It’s a tall order seemingly resisted by the realities of cow biology, however recent ground-breaking research may have opened new opportunities to meet these ambitious aims. Read More...

MicroRNAs May Play a Key Role in Heat Stress Responses in Mammary Glands of Lactating Cows

MicroRNAs May Play a Key Role in Heat Stress Responses in Mammary Glands of Lactating Cows

A concern facing dairy farmers as the long, hot days of summer approach is the threat of heat stress in their cows. Experienced at temperatures above 80°F, heat stress affects growth and development as well as milk composition and volume. Heat stress is a major cause of low fertility in dairy cattle. It also increases susceptibility to metabolic disorders, mammary gland pathogens and mastitis. Compared with other livestock, cattle are unable to dissipate their heat load efficiently. Additional heat generated by the fermentation of food in the rumen compounds this problem. Cows’ sweating response is not highly effective, and the animals rely on respiration to cool themselves. Because of their inefficient response, cattle accumulate a heat load during the day that must be dissipated in cooler nighttime temperatures. In extreme weather conditions with overnight temperatures above 70°F, however, this doesn’t happen. Cattle experiencing increasing heat stress will stop feeding and become restless. They will then begin drooling and breathing more rapidly and with increased effort. They will also begin to group together, further exacerbating the problem. If not controlled, severe cases of heat stress will result in death. Economically, decreased milk yield and reproductive losses through hot summer months seriously affect the dairy industry. Increased occurrences of extreme weather conditions caused by ongoing global warming will only worsen these losses. Read More...

Dairy Cattle Resistant to Tuberculosis

Dairy Cattle Resistant to Tuberculosis

Infectious diseases are not conquered, but sometimes that’s our perception. The infectious microbial agents patiently await the right opportunity occurring at the intersection of multiple circumstances. Their unpredictability is their modus operandi, which often amplifies their adverse impacts. Read More...

Discovery of “Dark Matter” in Livestock Genomes

Discovery of “Dark Matter” in Livestock Genomes

Paradoxes are uncomfortable. They remind us of how little we understand. Worse, it sometimes seems the more we know, the less we understand, and that’s a bitter-sweet paradox in itself. Nowhere are paradoxes more apparent than in our understanding of life, and in particular the scientific understanding of the encyclopedia of life—the genome present in every living cell. Many scientists conclude that without understanding these genomic paradoxes, humans cannot fully exploit the amazing potential of genetics to improve human health and enhance the efficiencies of livestock production systems. The latter occurs primarily through DNA marker-assisted selective breeding of livestock. This process exploits the genetic (DNA) variations present in a large population of a livestock species to help select for the high-performing animals that then go into breeding programs. The aim is to improve animal productivity in each generation. It’s a little like how a savings account grows with each year of interest. Read More...

Measuring Inbreeding Balances Efficient Selection with Sustainable and Healthy Herds

Measuring Inbreeding Balances Efficient Selection with Sustainable and Healthy Herds

Selective breeding has been used for many centuries—initially in a crude form by early farmers, but today using highly sophisticated genome analysis and complex algorithms. However, the goals have remained the same: to improve the efficiency of dairy production. This translates into breeding the healthiest, most productive cows suitable for the appropriate farming system and environment. New technologies have provided the capability to monitor the changes that occur with selection in great detail. Two recent papers explored the most effective methods to accomplish this and investigated changes in North American Holstein and South American Gyr dairy cattle. Read More...

Ancient DNA Provides the Clue to Modern Cattle

Modern dairy cows are as elite as Olympic athletes. They are champion milk producers and enable humans to turn fodder into dairy food with incredible efficiency. Underlying this performance is thousands of years of selection and improved management practices. Initially, the selection process was farmer driven and resulted in the development of many cattle breeds, but since the mid 20th century, when coordinated efforts by farmer groups and the dairy industry focused attention on the best methods to achieve improvements in production, the gain in efficiency through genetic selection has been remarkable. Read More...

Lessening the Gas Leak

Lessening the Gas Leak

A team of scientists from four continents has gathered evidence to demonstrate that it should be possible to cut methane emissions from dairy cattle without reducing how much milk they produce nor having to change the conditions in which they are kept. The answer is simply to add an ingredient to their feed. In tests lasting several months, this ingredient, 3-nitrooxypropanol known as 3NOP, cut methane emissions from Holstein dairy cows by about 30%. Achieving such a reduction in enteric methane output across the dairy industry would be a significant contribution to wider efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Read More...

The Energy Cost of Immune Cell Victory

The Energy Cost of Immune Cell Victory

Immune cells are strange beasts. Their favorite occupation, like a child nearing the end of a long summer vacation, is just hanging around looking for something to do. Usually, they just cruise the body in the blood, sometimes detouring into tissues seemingly just because they can. All is good. Read More...

Happy Cows to Reduce Milk Fever

Happy Cows to Reduce Milk Fever

Serotonin is best known to us as a brain factor that affects mood, with high levels associated with euphoria. However, it has much wider effects in the body, influencing gut motility, blood vessels, and osteoporosis. To scientists, this points to an interaction with calcium, and as we all know, calcium is an important component of milk and dairy products. So does serotonin influence milk calcium, and could the mood of cows affect milk production? Recent research by scientists in Wisconsin suggests that serotonin has an effect on regulating calcium in the important transition period from late pregnancy through lactation. Read More...

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