Reference: University of Illinois lactation biology website

In searching for information on mastitis, I came across this treasure trove of information. It was too good for me not to post here. It’s got great summaries, information, and a large collection of case studies. I almost wish the site itself was a book I could keep on the shelf, but for now I’ll just add it to my favorites. I want to recommend the page covering mastitis treatment and control for some light reading. It gives a really quick dirty rundown on industry methods and research. I was especially interested in the attempts to make vaccines, specifically ones for Staphylococcus Aureus, which can cause chronic infections that force dairy farmers to cull cows.

If you want to learn more about lactation biology, or are a student studying milk production, you need to visit this site and use it as a resource. Thank you to Dr. Walton Hurley for making your teaching materials available to everyone.

 

Article Review: Leptospira and Leptospirosis

In my latest ScienceDirect purge, I came across this article covering Leptospirosis. I had no idea it would be such a dense read, figuring it would be a simple review of the disease with emphasis on new discoveries. I ended up using a lot of immunology references and Google searches. This article isn’t just an entry from the Merck manual.

The article does a very good job of covering Lepto microbiology, but I was especially impressed with the point they made to identify everything we don’t know. Indeed that was the emphasis of the article, that lepto contains so many pathways unique to it as a bacterium that we don’t know nearly as much about it as we do something like E. Coli. Additionally, Lepto is extremely hard to culture, as you end up with non-virulent colonies. They identify and isolate the virulent daughters by inoculating lab animals.

You might assume that immunity to Lepto is a simple thing, given how prevalent Lepto vaccination is due to the zoonotic risk. However the article makes the point multiple times that immunity to one Lepto serovar does not grant immunity to others, though occasionally it can help grant passive immunity or resistance across different species. While the exchange of genetic material between parent and daughter lepto colonies is not well understood, it appears to be slow mutating, which is interesting given how unique the antigens between serovars seem to be.

There’s a lot of complicated immunology discussed in the article that I don’t feel qualified to comment on, but it’s very interesting, and I recommend glancing through. The more microbiology I learn the more I understand that 99% of the workings of the cell happen on membranes (a statement that probably produces a loud “duh” from any student, biologist, or doctor). For a more clinical discussion of Lepto, a simpler reference like Merck or Blackwells will help, as well as several peer-reviewed sources that the article itself recommends for information on clinical presentations.

Adler, B., & de la Peña Moctezuma, A. (2010). Leptospira and leptospirosis Veterinary Microbiology, 140 (3-4), 287-296 DOI: 10.1016/j.vetmic.2009.03.012

Book: Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists – Katherine A. Houpt

After a year-and-a-half of on and off reading, I’ve finally finished Domestic Animal Behavior for Veterinarians and Animal Scientists, 4th edition. It’s only about 400 pages, but it’s technically a textbook, and by no means light reading. I got through it by taking it a couple pages at a time, which allowed me to process the information and apply it to things I was learning and reading elsewhere.

It was a great resource for me, as someone who has few experiences working with production animals, to learn common behaviors and methods of correction for domestic species I was less familiar with. I’m sure a lot of it is common knowledge to someone who grew up around cattle, horses, sheep, and swine. But for someone like me who hasn’t spent years observing those animals, the book provided a lot of observations that I haven’t been able to see myself. Grazing and sexual behaviors were particularly interesting to me, and were covered well.

One of my favorite parts of the book was its depth. Each chapter is specific to one behavior aspect (e.g. “Communication”, “Aggression and Social Structure”, “Circadian Rhythms and Sleep”, and “Food and Water Intake”), then breaks it down by species, and then further breaks it down based on problems specific to that species, finally discussing relevant studies. I actually spent quite a few lunch breaks at the clinic last summer reading this book and asking the veterinarians questions.

The language and voice of the book tends to be pretty abstract, but occasionally makes suggestions to scientists studying/raising the species being discussed. The arguments are very compelling when they are immediately preceded by an experiment summary that supports them. The book also does a great job of identifying gaps in the reviewed literature, and asks great questions about continuity. It often seems to be giving a big hint or nudge to animal researchers to explore a specific topic.

Overall, I highly recommend this textbook for anyone interested in behavior or may want to learn more about domestic species. It covers a ton of the physiology and pharmacology behind the decisions animals make, and is a great example of technical but achievable language that animal science/veterinary students should be familiar with. I’ll definitely be keeping it as a desk reference and referring to it whenever starting a project with a new species.

Research: Transport, nutrient restriction, and effects on health and performance of cattle

This is the last of my posts covering the research currently underway at the EOARC. I’m starting to get really excited to go there, a week from Tuesday I get to leave and start working. So after this post I’ll put in some updates on what I’m doing over there, and return to my normal coverage of article reviews as I have time to read them.

The goal of this proposal is to see if a large part of the stress involved with cattle transport is caused by food and water deprivation, independent of the actual act of transport. I wished I had read this one first, as it contains a glimpse into the overall goals at the station.

“the long-term goal of our research program is to elaborate strategies that prevent stress-related illnesses elicited by routine cattle management procedures and, consequently, promote cattle welfare and productivity.”

Which is pretty much exactly what I want to promote in my later career, wherever that leads me. Its the idea of promoting welfare by working with the system, instead of digging trenches.

I actually learned a bit of immunology from this proposal, it was interesting. I always knew that chronic stress weakened the immune system, but apparently acute stress responses help fend off disease. Proinflammatory cytokines are released with acute stress, with the body assuming a response to a pathogen. The problem there, is that chronic stress (like that associated with transport or feed restriction) causes an unnecessary immune response that depletes resources and opens the animals up to infections like Bovine Respiratory Disease (BRD). The purpose of this study is to find new strategies in transport to reduce associated chronic stress and thus incidences of BRD.

54 steers will be separated into three groups, one will be transported continuously for 24 hours, another deprived of food and water for 24 hours at the station, and the last kept at the station with normal food and water access. Stress will be quantified by plasma chem profiles, cortisol, prostaglandin E2,  and various proinflammatory cytokine concentrations.

If it turns out the restriction of feed and water causes a significant amount of similar stress to transport, a discussion can open on new techniques in cattle transport that could potentially alleviate some of this stress. Thus, everyone wins, the cows are less stressed, and the industry loses less money dealing with cases of BRD.

You can read the full proposal here.

 

I’m ready to get over there and get into the thick of the work. I imagine I’ll learn tons more about the previous research carried out at the station that led to these current conclusions. Especially the stuff that hasn’t been published online yet. In addition to my article reviews, I’ll also post a few updates on what it’s like to work over there, and I’ll try to keep them somewhat interesting. There will probably be a gap between posts for a couple weeks while I get all situated (and finish a guest post for another blog). So check back here mid August.

New Name and Look

Making it Happen is now Animal Science Review. The new name reflects the purpose of the blog, making it easier to find for those interested in its content. The makeover reflects what I’ve seen on other popular blogs, the main change being the white background which makes the text easier to read. That’s pretty much it. Hope it’s an improvement.

Research: Incorporation of Sexed Semen into the 7‐day CO‐Synch + CIDR Estrous Synchronization Protocol

Sexed semen has the potential to completely change the industry. If pregnancy rates with altered semen continue to improve, we could see not only major efficiency upgrades in cattle production, but the reduction of many practices animal rights groups would like to see end. A great example is the veal industry, which is perpetuated not so much from a consumer demand for veal, but for a need to recuperate costs from unneeded male calves in the dairy industry. Being able to avoid the negative public image of producing veal calves by using sexed semen would be an appealing option for many milk producers. This proposal is exploring the financial benefit of using sexed semen in beef cattle production (in which weaned steers sell for 15% more than heifers).

The study will be simple, but with an awesome sample size of 450 cattle. We will synchronize estrus using a controlled intravaginal drug-releasing device (CIDR), along with other synchronization methods I need to do some more research to explain. For an overview of several CIDR methods you can look here. Serum concentrations of progesterone will be used to determine if normal estrous cycles are occurring, after which we will use standard AI techniques to inseminate the cows with either the sexed semen or the control semen.

When all is said and done, we will not only examine pregnancy rates, but the performance of the offspring in growth and carcass quality. The overall picture will provide the best financial perspective when examining the feasibility of using this technology in the future.

It’s a cool study, and I’m excited to see if the pregnancy rates with the sexed semen are high enough to start incorporating it into mainstream production. The large sample size is great because that makes the conclusions from this study have weight for producers that take financial risk in the future trying to incorporate sexed semen into their programs. Few studies examining sexed semen have had large enough sample sizes to validate their results. Additionally, this study is the first of its kind to examine a direct cost-benefit relationship of using the new technology in comparison to the established methods.

You can read the full proposal here.

Research: Effects of Bovine Somatotropin Treatment on Performance, Reproductive, and Physiological Responses of Replacement Beef Heifers

Oh yes, rBST (or BST, rBGH, “hormone injections”, “chemicals”, or any lay term the media can come up with), clearly the reason we are all getting cancer with every steak we eat and glass of milk we drink (second only to cell phone radiation and airport scanners). Animal science faces many of the same problems as food science. If the media can report on it and with scary images, all the while promoting ignorance of the processes of food production, then they will gladly jump on any and all practices in food production. This is super effective because everyone eats, and so we are sensitive to news that what we eat may harm us. I’ll discuss a little more about rBST use in Oregon, but fist I want to examine this proposal we’ll be examining at the EOARC.

The premise of the proposal is that in cow-calf operations, replacement heifers become less and less financially viable if they take longer to reach puberty, or miss their first breeding season. Previous research done at the EOARC has shown that higher IGF-1 (insulin like growth factor 1) concentrations are found in heifers that reach puberty by 12 months compared to non-pubertal heifers of the same age (Cooke et al., 2007). These levels are usually encouraged by using a high plane of nutrition; however, in eastern Oregon we generally run our cow-calf operations on poor forage because it’s economical, it’s what we have, and what we can take advantage of. The idea of the study then, is to see if rBST administration will result in higher IGF-1 levels which will hasten puberty compared to untreated cattle. Additionally, because the normal high plane of nutrition would also raise levels of insulin, blood glucose, and leptin which could also affect onset of puberty, this study will single out IGF-1 levels and determine if the absence of those other factors plays a role in puberty onset.

The procedures are pretty standard, so I won’t rewrite them all here, I’ll post the proposal below so you can read them yourself if you want to examine the methods. One thing I’m impressed by is the rotation of bulls between the treatment and control groups to account for bull effects. I’ve learned about estrus synchronization and other pheromone effects in repro, but the effects a specific bull might have are even more interesting. I wrote about one of these effects when looking at stallions kept on home pasture with pregnant mares a while ago, and was fascinated by the idea of spontaneous (or conscious!) abortion in the presence of specific stallions.

One thing I was a little concerned about is the sample size of the proposal. I’m told anything over 20 is considered viable, but you can’t really lock in any trends you may find with a sample size that small. This particular study will use 40 cattle, which makes the control and treatment groups composed of 20 animals. I think that we’ll still get good data, but that more research with more animals will be necessary to fortify the conclusions that come out of this study.

So that’s pretty much all I have for this one, it’s pretty straightforward. The only problem I have is that, while I support the use of rBST, the current trend is to abandon its use, which may end up making this research obsolete.

This needs to be said in any discussion about the hormone, and it isn’t said enough: the FDA has not found any significant effects resulting from the ingestion of milk from rBST treated cattle. It’s clever advertizing! And we as consumers have to start making the harder choices. We either have to start paying more for our food, or allow our farmers to use safe treatments to increase yields. We can’t have it both ways. I admire people who buy organic items because by purchasing them at a higher price they acknowledge that our agriculture industry needs to make money, and that the margins for small farms are incredibly slim. It’s the ones who want to limit the industry by preventing the use of tools that increase production, but still want to pay 2 dollars for a gallon of milk that make it harder and harder to strengthen the industry.

Coincidentally, this is why student fees and current national budget are so hard to set. No one ever wants to pay more, but we certainly can’t take away any of our provided services either. Something has to give there.

 

You can read the full research proposal here.

You can read a statement from the FDA on “rBST free” labeling here.

You can read a short statement (followed by a list of stores that sell rBST free milk) from the Oregon Physicians for Social Responsibility here. This group has worked hard to discourage use of rBST in small dairy’s across Oregon.

Research: Effects of disposition and acclimation to human handling on feedlot performance and carcass characteristics of feeder steers

So as I’ve mentioned before, this summer/fall I’ll be interning at the Eastern Oregon Agricultural Research Station (EOARC) in Burns, Oregon under Dr. Reinaldo Cooke. So my next few blog posts leading up to that will concern the research that we will be conducting, as well as a brief look at previous similar experiments that have been conducted at the station or elsewhere.

The first one is one that I’ve actually discussed on this blog before, and it concerns the effects of disposition and acclimation to human handling on cattle in all life stages. Previous research has examined heifers and cows, looking mostly at reproduction, performance, and temperament (note, there has been more recent research on the subject, however it is not yet published online). The new proposal that I will get to help work on will be concerning steers and feedlot performance.

The overall purpose of the study isn’t to find anything drastically new, as calm disposition has already been shown to be beneficial for general and feedlot performance in other settings. Primarily the goal is to examine cow/calf operations as they are used in Oregon (large rangeland scenarios, not drylots), promote selection for calm disposition as a production trait, and show that acclimation to handling is a possible and beneficial way to attain higher yields (in terms of carcass quality).

In terms of the methods, I’m still reading and rereading all of these so that I’m very familiar with the experiments we will be running. As far as the acclimation process goes, we’re going to be spending time with the experimental group for two hours, three times a week before they go to the feedlot. During that time we will run them through basic handling procedures, and during feeding times we will walk around in close proximity to further acclimate them to our presence. At the end of the 60 days at the EOARC they’ll take a 24 hour truck ride (to simulate transport that would normally be long and stressful for most of Oregon cattle) then head to the feedlot in Boardman. The control group will remain free to graze during this time without excess human contact to keep them non-acclimated.

The quantitative data we will be collecting (at multiple points during the experiment) will include: cortisol, inflammatory proteins, IGF-1 (Insulin like Growth Factor), weight gain, feed intake, feed efficiency, health condition, morbidity and mortality, and several carcass characteristics. Our evaluation of cattle disposition will also be quantitative, as it will be evaluated based on chute exit velocity and chute score.

A quick note on exit velocity, when I visited the EOARC, Reinaldo showed me the infrared sensor that they use to measure chute exit velocity. I think that similar devices are used to measure fastballs. I just thought it was really cool. There are a lot of other experiments on temperament out there that examine exit velocity, it’s well proven as a method for determining excitability/temperament/disposition. I just think it’s really cool, and pretty brilliant.

I imagine that we’ll find the expected results, and that the acclimated steers will be less stressed and better producers than the control group. I’m also curious whether this is the last in the series examining this effect, or if there’s still another age group or factor to analyze. This effect on dairy cows has already been examined, so what could be left? There’s nothing except the feedlot. Given the compact and efficient nature of the feedlot, I don’t think it’s financially viable to take the time to further acclimate the animals to the human presence. Hopefully, the acclimation routine done in the cow/calf operation beforehand will be sufficient to promote better performance on the feedlot, and this study will examine just that. I’ll definitely be asking Reinaldo what his future proposals will be, and maybe even get to participate in that thinking process.

Click here to view the actual research proposal.

Newsworthy: US Supreme Court Upholds 9th Circuit Decision in Brown Vs. Entertainment Merchants Association

I’m a couple days late on this one, you can blame physics homework for that. But this is a big deal.

I’ve followed the politics concerning video games for over 8 years, it originally stemmed from looking to protect my rights as a consumer, and now even more so as I’ve gotten older I recognize it as an important free speech issue. As a consumer of games and, to stereotype myself, a young person looking to protect my speech and fight for my generations media, its something important to me and something I feel like I can make a difference in by being informed.

So anyway, the Supreme court has ruled the California law, which would have fined retailers $1,000 if they sold a violent video game to anyone under the age of 18, to be unconstitutional under the first amendment.

I could rant and rant on the problems with the law: the sheer subjectivity of what constitutes enough violence to be affected by the law, the fact that it takes away the power of parents to choose what their children can and can’t play, the fact that contrary to popular opinion film restrictions for R rated movies etc. are not regulated by the government (it’s a voluntary system), that according to the FTC the ESRB “M” rated games are actually better enforced (not sold to anyone under 18) than film “R” ratings, and the fact that fictional violence in any other medium is not regulated.

It all really comes down to a simple premise, that goes beyond the obvious political maneuvers, and the “protect the children” mantra that is always used to restrict speech. But I’ll let Justice Scalia say it far better, and with the full authority of the United States Supreme Court.

“Like the protected books, plays and movies that preceded them, video games communicate ideas — and even social messages — through many familiar literary devices (such as characters, dialogue, plot and music) and through features distinctive to the medium (such as the player’s interaction with the virtual world),” Justice Scalia wrote. “That suffices to confer First Amendment protection.”

Whatever new form of media or communication appears and becomes popular, the older generations will always fear that it will destroy society.  This isn’t me saying anything like “old people just don’t understand” or anything like that, but it’s how we’re programmed. When I’m older and the new form of media pops up that allows people to recreate violence in a new way, I’ll probably think it’s dangerous as well. But the world evolves. Just the other day my ballroom dance teacher was telling us how the Waltz was feared and condemned for being such a risque dance. Life moves on, those waltzers grew up, and they found something to condemn when their youth created something new. Rock and Roll, Rap, and any and all literature that ever went mainstream (ever, seriously, books scare people, and rightfully so considering their influence), its going to keep happening. All it takes is for us to remember that free speech is a one way street, either everything’s allowed, or nothing’s allowed. It sucks when we can’t silence people who want to promote the KKK, who want to support fictional rape productions, or who want to protest around military funerals. But I’ve been personally challenged on those very points, and as painful as it is to support their speech, someone out there is thinking “well if Austin believes that fictional rape promotes real rape, doesn’t fictional violence promote real violence?” And in order to truly protect free speech, the merit of such speech cannot be determined by anyone, even a majority. The supreme court once decided that segregation was unconstitutional (using interstate commerce law), and if the media and modes of communication during that time were governmentally regulated or silenced based on the public opinion at the time, who knows how long it would have taken to move those ideas forward.

Another 30 years from now the idea of regulating video games will be considered absurd, and the ESRB rating will be believed as law just like film ratings are due to voluntary retail enforcement. This landmark decision today just brought that day much closer, and we can find another stupid way for our elected officials to waste tax dollars fighting pointless battles just for voter points. I just hope I still remember what it was like when I was fighting on this side, and don’t find myself shaking my finger at whatever unfamiliar thing becomes popular with the next generation.

For coverage on the decision you can check out the article in The New York Times and also look up the entire history of the law (signed in by the Governator, who of course didn’t build his entire career on violent media…*facepalm*) at the always useful Gamepolitics.com.