Cattle health research gets fund boost

A University of Saskatchewan researcher will focus on antimicrobial resistance and production limiting diseases

SASKATOON — New funding and a new research chair at the University of Saskatchewan will boost capacity to examine beef cattle health issues including antimicrobial use and resistance.

Dr. Cheryl Waldner from the Western College of Veterinary Medicine has been appointed the NSERC/BCRC Industrial Research Chair in One Health and Production Limiting Diseases.

“Our research is going to focus on providing tools for the beef industry and for veterinarians to help them use existing data and to identify new sources of data that will inform decision making for some of the issues that are most critical to the industry, namely antimicrobial resistance and production limiting diseases,” she told reporters after the announcement of $2.35 million in funding over five years.

The National Science and Engineering Research Council is contributing $750,000, as are producers through check-off money to the Beef Cattle Research Council. The university is contributing $850,000 to the project.

Waldner said antimicrobial use is a critical issue.

An immediate project will be to develop genomic tools to allow veterinarians to identify the right drug for the right animal at the right time to address bovine respiratory disease.

BRD is one of the most common reasons to use injectable antimicrobials in beef cattle.

Waldner said researchers are looking at developing two different tools that could reduce the time between testing and results from five to seven days to hours.

“And these tests should be able to be done at veterinary clinics so we don’t have to ship the samples to the laboratory,” she said.

“If we can diagnose this condition faster, if we can provide more evidence-based recommendations for antimicrobial use, we will save the industry a significant amount of money but we will also protect antimicrobials and reduce the development of antimicrobial resistance.”

The University of Saskatchewan has a strong beef research program, and BCRC chair Ryan Beierbach, from Whitewood, Sask., said increasing that capacity can only help the industry.

Work on antimicrobials will provide good information on what is best for the animals, he said. Nobody wants to give antibiotics if not necessary, he said, but quicker tests will help make the decision easier.

“We’re kind of borderline profitable and need to have every tool we can to remain profitable,” he said. “If we can get a leg up by having research, that helps us make better decisions on when to use antimicrobials. That makes it so that we can compete with producers in the United States and Australia and make sure our beef is safer than the rest and make sure we produce it at a level where we can still make some money and remain in business.”

That funding came a day after Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister David Marit announced nearly $8.1 million in funding for livestock and forage-related research through the province’s Agriculture Development Fund.

Twenty-seven projects will share $4.9 million, while the Livestock and Forage Centre of Excellence received $3.2 million to operate.

U of S beef researcher Dr. Greg Penner said he had “a particularly good day” as he got funding for three projects.

One of them will look at using the active compound in Pepto-Bismol, bismuth subsalicylate, to improve water quality for cattle. Saskatchewan has a lot of water but often the quality isn’t suitable for cattle.

“The compound binds to sulfides, which is what’s produced in the rumen of cattle when they drink high sulfate water,” Penner said of his study. “If we can bind those sulfides we can reduce the risk, potentially, of high sulfate water, but it has never been tested.”

He also has a project to develop new forage varieties with enhanced digestibility that will also help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase production efficiency.

The third project will look at hybrid rye, a crop developed in Germany that could increase yields, protect the environment, increase disease resistance and improve farmers’ bottom lines.

“There’s really no data on how to use that hybrid rye as a silage source for cattle,” he said.

Penner added the benefit of having governments invest in research is that the general public is represented and the work can meet society’s interests.

He said competition for research funds is tough.

“The success rate is very low and the success rate is decreasing with time,” he said. “I don’t know the exact success rate for the current funding call. My experience would be less than 50 percent success rate.”

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