Mysterious Oregon cattle killings, mutilations alarm ranchers – OregonLive.com

When the first dead bull turned up at the end of July, it didn’t raise an alarm at the Silvies Valley Ranch.

Cattle sometimes die suddenly on the ranch’s 140,000 acres in Harney County — struck by disease or felled by a broken leg and unable to find a way out of the rugged, forested terrain.

But by the time ranch hands discovered four more dead bulls within 24 hours, they knew they were likely dealing with deliberate, premeditated killings.

They’re still baffled by the circumstances. There were no wounds. No signs of a struggle. And the bulls’ genitals and tongues had been carefully removed.

The killing and mutilation of the 4 and 5-year-old Hereford bulls in the prime of their productive lives has since spurred a multi-agency investigation in eastern Oregon, but detectives have turned up no leads and haven’t yet even settled on a cause of death.

“How somebody put these bulls on the ground at what would be arguably a fairly close range — and to do it in a way that didn’t leave any signs, no trace evidence, no footprints, no struggle marks from the animal, no broken limbs — I have no idea,” said Colby Marshall, vice president of the Silvies Valley Ranch.

The mystery deepens because there’s no obvious reason someone would want those animal parts. They aren’t prime targets for black market sales, authorities said.

The deaths are eerily similar to a rash of livestock killings and mutilations across the West in the 1970s, when hundreds of cows and bulls turned up dead, also of seemingly unknown causes and with their genitals and tongues missing.

Back then, theories ran the gamut from a government conspiracy and UFOs to natural deaths and scavengers. Today, the circumstances at Silvies Valley Ranch point to humans as the probable culprits because of the precise cuts on the bulls.

Anything else for now is speculation, including ideas of what might have killed a bull without leaving marks. Marshall said he wonders if the killer used poison darts.

“We think that these are very sick and dangerous individuals and they need to answer for this horrible crime,” he said.

***

Silvies Valley Ranch, about 40 minutes north of the county seat of Burns, has put up a $25,000 reward for information on the bull killings that leads to an arrest and conviction, and the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association has offered its own $1,000 reward.

The investigation has pulled in Oregon State Police as well as the U.S. Forest Service because the cattle were grazing on a federal allotment in the Malheur National Forest.

The ranch is owned by veterinarian Scott Campbell, who bought the enterprise in 2006. Since then, it’s expanded into tourism with a golf course and resort on site, but still maintains around 4,500 head of beef cattle, including around 100 bulls.

The five dead bulls were found on July 30 and 31, in a wooded area about 15 miles from U.S. 395, the nearest major road. They were each about a quarter mile apart, Marshall said. There is some official disagreement on when they were killed — the Harney County Sheriff’s Office, which saw only four of the bulls, puts the deaths at three to 14 days before discovery, but Marshall believes the cattle were discovered within 24 to 48 hours of their deaths.

The delay in finding the animals is not unusual in such a remote area, where ranchers are tasked with patrolling large tracts of land, said Jerome Rosa, executive director of the Oregon Cattlemen’s Association. Harney County is Oregon’s largest county, covering more than 10,000 square miles where cattle outnumber people 14-to-1.

“These are huge, vast, steep landscapes with lots of rock and trees and brush,” Rosa said. “Ranchers may not see their cattle for long stretches of time.”

Beef is Oregon’s largest agricultural commodity, drawing in nearly $1 billion a year – and most cattle crimes typically involve theft, Rosa said.

This makes the deaths at Silvies Valley Ranch particularly bizarre, he said, because the bulls were worth a lot of money alive, particularly for breeding.

Marshall estimated their value at up to $7,000 apiece and said they would have sired at least 100 calves each over the remainder of their lives.

“Their productive life was a huge economic opportunity for the ranch, and now that’s completely lost,” he said. “We’re talking hundreds of thousands of dollars.”

***

The five dead bulls were found on July 30 and 31, in a wooded area about 15 miles from U.S. 395, the nearest major road. Their genitals and tongues had been cleanly removed.

Silvies Valley Ranch

The five dead bulls were found on July 30 and 31, in a wooded area about 15 miles from U.S. 395, the nearest major road. Their genitals and tongues had been cleanly removed.

Marshall has heard from several other Oregon ranchers who reported similar killings on their property over the past few decades — including cows that had been found with their udders, vulvas and tongues removed.

One of these ranchers, Terry Anderson, found a dead cow on land he was renting near Pendleton in 1980. Its udder had been cleanly removed and Anderson could see no clear evidence of what had killed the animal.

“There was no visible bullet hole or anything there,” Anderson recalled this week. “It was so unusual. It just left you with an eerie feeling.”

The hundreds of cattle deaths in the 1970s — largely concentrated in the Midwest — caused a media sensation as ranchers roiled by an economic crisis blamed a government conspiracy, according to Michael Goleman, a history professor at Somerset Community College in Kentucky who researched the phenomenon.

Because the killings were scattered across different states, investigators reached no overarching conclusion on the cause of the deaths, but Goleman said some people believed the government was conducting weapons tests on the cattle.

Facing pressure from ranchers, the FBI opened an investigation in 1979 into the deaths of 15 cattle in New Mexico, ultimately concluding that there was no evidence of intentional mutilation by humans and the animals had likely died of natural causes.

Since then, scattered reports have made headlines, including the discovery of several mutilated cows in Kansas in 2016 and five cows in 1990 that had been killed and dissected on a farm in Washington. Goleman said conspiracy theorists have pinned the blame on everything from satanic cults to aliens.

But Silvies Valley Ranch isn’t placing its bets on paranormal activity, though Harney County Sheriff’s Deputy Dan Jenkins said he’s gotten a few suggestions that Sasquatch may be responsible. He’s received around 20 calls from around the western U.S. since news about the deaths started spreading.

Jenkins, the lead investigator on the case, said the lack of physical evidence at the crime sites — no footprints, no tire or ATV tracks — means authorities are relying on witnesses to call in to the tip line and report any suspicious activity they might have seen in the area.

***

David Bohnert, a professor at Oregon State University who studies beef cattle, said two things typically kill livestock: poisoning from eating toxic plants and people.

In this case, poisoning is unlikely, given the number of bulls involved and the plants in the area, he said. Larkspur typically flowers earlier in the year, while hemlock, another deadly plant, grows only around rivers and streams — not the dry forests where the bulls were found.

Plus, the fact that all five cattle killed were bulls, Bohnert said, is statistically unlikely to occur in nature — they make up only about 4% to 6% of a herd.

That leaves human activity as the most likely cause, he said. Adding to the evidence is the surgical precision with which the genitals and tongues were removed. Scavengers would leave obvious signs of tearing with teeth, claws or beaks, he said.

Bohnert said he has heard rumors of bull testicles being considered an aphrodisiac, and both tongues and genitals can be eaten — the famous “Rocky Mountain Oysters” come to mind. But he could think of no reason why someone couldn’t just legally buy the animal parts.

Yet the human explanation comes with its own difficulties.

Taking down a 2,000-pound bull is no easy feat, and Marshall said there were no signs of a struggle — the bulls were all lying on their sides as if they had just fallen over and died.

He said he could only think that some kind of toxic dart might kill a bull from a distance. But he has no proof of it and may never find it. It’s not clear if a dart would leave a detectable imprint.

In the meantime, tissue samples taken from the carcasses are still being analyzed for toxins and no results are available yet, Marshall said. Even with the tests, the killings may remain an enigma. The bulls had been left to decompose for several days, making a toxicology screen difficult to do, he said.

Until a suspect is found, ranch employees are on high alert, particularly those who patrol vast areas alone on ATV or on horseback.

Rosa said the news had also concerned other ranchers — but that greater awareness could also lead to faster answers in the tight-knit ranching community.

“The neighbors and the folks that are in those areas know each other,” Rosa said. “And when there’s someone strange or different that’s out and about, they take notice of that, and they let each other know.”

— Diana Kruzman; dkruzman@oregonian.com; 503-221-5394; @DKruzman

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Understanding cattle nasal microbes may aid disease prevention – Feedstuffs

New research led by academics in the veterinary and medical schools at the University of Bristol in the U.K. used the “One Health” approach to study three bacterial species in the noses of young cattle and found that the carriage of the bacteria was surprisingly different.

The findings — combined ideas and methods from both animal and human health research — could help prevent and control respiratory diseases, the announcement said.

Cattle, like people, harbor a wide range of bacteria in their noses: microbes that are normally present and probably necessary for health, like those that live in the gut, the researchers said. However, some species of these bacteria do cause serious illness at times, particularly when infection becomes established in the lower respiratory tract within the lungs.

In an open-access paper published Aug. 16 in Scientific Reports, the researchers investigated the patterns of acquiring and clearing these microbes in healthy young cattle, which have not previously been studied in detail.

The research team took nasal swabs at intervals during the first year of life to detect the presence and measure the abundance of microbes using a DNA-detection technique called quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) that targeted genes found in three bacterial species well known for their ability to cause respiratory disease in cattle: Histophilus somni, Mannheimia haemolytica and Pasteurella multocida.

The researchers found that the carriage patterns of the three bacteria differed remarkably, the university said.

According to the researchers:

  • Pasteurella was found in most of the animals — usually in large numbers — and the bacteria stayed in the nose for weeks or months.
  • Histophilus was present in up to half the animals — usually in smaller numbers — and the periods it was present were shorter.
  • Mannheimia was rarely found, although the numbers detected, when present, varied widely.

These differences are of interest because the numbers of bacteria and their duration of carriage are likely to influence their spread among healthy cattle and the likelihood of causing severe respiratory disease, the researchers said.

“These techniques and results offer a way forward in understanding why and how apparently healthy cattle harboring these bacteria may go on to develop respiratory illness and should help in finding new ways to prevent it,” said Amy Thomas, lead author who carried out the research as part of her doctoral studies in clinical veterinary science at the University of Bristol.

Professor Mark Eisler, co-author and chair in Global Farm Animal Health at the Bristol Vet School, added, “These studies are particularly important because cattle are known to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, and improving how their diseases are controlled will help mitigate climate change. Also, reducing the use of antimicrobials that treat respiratory diseases in cattle should help reduce the increasing global threat of antimicrobial resistance in animals and humans.”

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Cattle Markets In Summer Dog Days – Drovers Magazine

Packers in the southern plains showed little interest in acquiring cattle and feedyards continued to pass on $109 bids at the end of the week. In the Western Corn Belt cattle traded at $114 to $115 early in the week, with Nebraska at $113. Dressed sales for the week ranged from $180 to $185. The market was called steady to $3 lower.

Feeder cattle traded at uneven prices at auction across the nation, ranging from $2 lower to $3.50 higher.  Agricultural Marketing Service reporters said feeder heifers in both the south-central and north-central regions traded steady to $1 lower.  

“Extremely hot weather has gripped most of the southern trading areas this week,” AMS said. “Pasture conditions are deteriorating, causing concern for the remainder of grazing season. Producers are weighing their options between decreased forage and the thought of hauling cattle to the auction barn in these extreme conditions.”

Cattle slaughter for the week was estimated at 645,000 compared to 626,000 the previous week and 647,000 last year. Actual slaughter weights for week ending July 27th showed steer carcass weights three pounds higher at 806 pounds. Heifers were five pounds heavier at 795 pounds.

Choice beef cutout prices closed $1.64 lower at $216.37, with Select $3.18 lower at $193.81. The Choice-Select spread was $22.56.

Related stories:

Feeder Cattle Higher, Feds Steady To $1 Lower

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Overhe(a)rd: Cattle Traceability, Make Friends with Grocery Shoppers – Drovers Magazine

What if cattle producers and meat eaters could trace cattle at every step from field to plate?

In Episode 4 of Overhe(a)rd, the Farm Journal Livestock podcast, Drovers Editorial Director Greg Henderson explains how traceability benefits consumers and beef producers. Millennial meat eater Brittany shares her guilty food pleasures (hint: think bacon and ice cream) and serves up her top meal prep tips. And Brandi Buzzard busts the biggest environmental myth she’s heard about raising cattle. Here’s the info on the latest show:

Have you he(a)rd: The latest news in livestock

Maybe you’ve seen the outrageous Portlandia TV show where the characters Peter and Nance sit down for a meal at a farm-to-table restaurant and pepper the server with questions about the chicken they’re about to eat—who raised the bird? What was the bird’s name? Is it USDA organic? It’s an out-there idea, but traceability is actually a lot closer than we think.  

A cattle initiative is aimed at making it possible to trace beef from plate or grocery store to the packing industry, feedlot and ranch of origin, Henderson says.

Producers also benefit from traceability—if there’s a disease outbreak or a health or production concern, they need to be able to trace those animals and minimize the economic damage from a disease outbreak.

“Keep in mind cattle can be 1,000 miles from where they were sold in a 24- to 36-hour time period,” says Henderson. “If there’s a disease outbreak, we need to know immediately.”

Listen below to hear Greg discuss traceability in the cattle market in the podcast at the end of this story.

Meat the millennial

“As a millennial, everything is kind of fast-paced, so I meal prep a lot on Saturdays, I’ll cook for the whole week,” says Brittany, a millennial meat eater. “If the recipe involves a vegetable and looks pretty healthy, I can dress it up different ways. So that’s a lot of salads and a lot of burrito bowls and soup that’s really flexible.”

Brittany discusses millennial eating habits in the podcast below.

The main dish

Brandi Buzzard, a rancher, mom, communications professional and agricultural activist, doesn’t shy from controversy. She also knows all eyes are watching when you tackle tough topics, which is why she’s carefully honed her message to promote beef as an important component of a healthy diet. Here, she spells out one of the biggest myths she regularly busts:

“There’s a big misconception out there that cattle are having a negative impact on our environment. Cattle are responsible for less than 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and those numbers come from the Environmental Protection Agency, so I’m inclined to believe them,” Buzzard says.  “I’m confident in the fact that beef cattle are not only a part of a sustainable diet, but also can be part of a sustainable environment and help restore grasslands and sequester carbon.”

Hear Frobose talk about her experience busting myths about the Green New Deal, including her interview on MSNBC, in the full podcast here:

Other ways to listen:
Apple podcasts
Spotify
Omny

Also check out these related articles:
Read more from Brandi Buzzard here
Study: Beef Industry Driven ID System Beneficial to Producers

Overhe(a)rd: Trust In Food and How to Respond to PETA

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African cattle investing – the new cash cow? – Reuters

JOHANNESBURG/VRYHEID, South Africa (Reuters) – Cattle have long been considered a measure of wealth across Africa – but it is not just farmers cashing in.

A man herds cattle on communal land in Cato Ridge, South Africa, July 28, 2019. REUTERS/Rogan Ward

A pioneering app in South Africa lets investors, eager to benefit from rising global beef demand, buy shares in a cow from their mobile phone for as little as 576 rand ($41).

Self-styled “crowd-farming” company Livestock Wealth connects investors with small-scale farmers via its “MyFarmbook” app, where they can buy their own cow and receive interest rates of between 5% and 14% depending on where they put their money.

Launched in 2015 with 26 cows, the project now includes more than 2,000 cows and has taken in 50 million rand, with 10 percent of investors coming from outside South Africa.

Groups of investors can buy a whole cow, while individuals can purchase shares in a pregnant cow or young calf.

A pregnant cow costs 18,730 rand and takes 12 months before the newborn calf can be sold for a return, while investing in a calf costs 11,529 rand and takes six months for it to grow enough to be sold.

“We can link small scale farmers to big markets by introducing private capital into the growing phase,” said 38 year-old Livestock Wealth founder and CEO Ntuthuko Shezi, who was inspired by his grandparents’ farming success.

“The household bank account was a crop,” added Shezi of his family experience, standing among a herd of cattle at a partner farm in Vryheid, a ranching town in northern KwaZulu-Natal province.

“EASIER” THAN REAL FARMING

Livestock contributes around 51% to the agricultural economy in South Africa, with global sheep and beef prices rising after droughts in major producing areas.

“Many people live in urban areas and they have interests in participating in farming but they cannot physically be there and this offers them a platform to do that,” said Wandile Sihlobo, economist with South African agribusiness association Agbiz.

Small business consultant Nontokozo Sabela, 34, was once interested in farming – but found the app a better alternative.

She bought her first cow in 2016 and earned around 6,000 rand from it. “This way it’s easier for me, it’s cheaper, it’s convenient,” said Sabela.

As with any investment, however, risks exist. Both the impact of weather on feed costs and fluctuations in global demand for beef can affect the cow investments.

Shezi now hopes to expand his business into the produce market after launching a vegetable growing system this month that aims to give a 220 rand return per month over five years.

($1 = 14.1696 rand)

Reporting by Tanisha Heiberg; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne

Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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US Cattle Inventory Reaches A Plateau – Drovers Magazine

The July Cattle report shows that the inventory of all cattle and calves in the U.S. was unchanged year over year at 103 million head as of July 1.  The inventory of beef cows was likewise unchanged at 32.4 million head while the dairy cow inventory was 9.3 million, down 1.1 percent year over year.  Beef replacement heifers was down 4.3 percent at 4.4 million head and dairy replacement heifers were down 2.4 percent to 4.1 million head compared to one year ago.  The inventory of bulls was unchanged year over year at 2.1 million head.

The July 1 inventory of steers over 500 pounds was 14.7 million head, up 1.4 percent year over year.  The inventory of other (not for replacement) heifers over 500 pounds was 7.9 million head, up 5.3 percent from one year ago.  Total steer and heifer calves under 500 pounds was 28.1 million head, down 0.7 percent year over year.  With an estimated total July 1 feedlot inventory of 13.6 million head, these inventory estimates lead to an estimated feeder supply outside of feedlots of 37.1 million head, up slightly by 0.3 percent compared to last year.  The inventory report was well anticipated and contained no surprises. 

These inventory totals suggest that the U.S. cattle herd has reached a plateau.  I contrast a plateau with a more typical cyclical peak inventory that historically has implied a liquidation phase to follow.  The current inventory levels do not suggest a need for, or an inevitable, liquidation in cattle inventories at this time.  Stable cow numbers and calf crop suggest that beef production will show little or no growth going into 2020.  Current beef production levels and cattle prices are sustainable until something changes to provoke a new direction in cattle inventories. 

Such changes could come sooner or later and could be positive or negative.  If both domestic and international demand for U.S. beef continues at current levels, there will be little or no pressure on cattle markets.  If something should happen to weaken beef demand in the U.S. or in global markets, lower beef and cattle prices could result in some liquidation of cattle inventories.  Impressive beef demand since 2017 is showing some signs of weakness that should be closely monitored going forward.  Conversely, new growth in demand, most likely to occur if the myriad of trade disputes and issues in which the U.S. is currently embroiled are resolved, could provoke additional herd expansion and new growth in beef and cattle markets at some point.

The U.S. cattle and beef industry may be in the most stable situation that I can ever remember.  This is pretty remarkable given the continued turbulence in external market conditions.  Numerous factors that could destabilize cattle markets should be monitored including; corn prices and feed market conditions; the impacts of African Swine Fever on global protein markets; U.S. macroeconomic conditions; and exchange rates among others. Additionally, progress or lack thereof on current trade politics or new trade issues that could arise will have a large impact, positive or negative, on the overall climate for beef and cattle markets.

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Ancient DNA sheds light on early cattle – Cosmos

Cows are seemingly simple creatures. Their history is anything but.

An analysis of ancient genomes from domestic cattle and their wild relatives has uncovered the complex family tree of our milk- and steak-producing charges.

The study, published in the journal Science, reveals a history shaped by centuries-long drought and trysts with wild aurochs.

European cattle (Bos taurus) were domesticated around 10,500 years ago in a region that today spans parts of Turkey and the Middle East from wild aurochs (Bos primogenius), large beasts that were eventually snuffed out in the seventeenth century.

Genetic information from modern cattle indicate that a pool of just 80 female aurochs contributed to this initial domestication event. But analysis of modern genomes can only reveal so much about this early history.

One complicating factor is the introduction of genes from zebu (Bos indicus) – the characteristically humped cattle of South Asia that were domesticated around 8000 years ago from Indian aurochs (Bos nomadicus). This occurred further east in the Indus Valley, a region in modern-day Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India.

To get at some of the early events in cattle history, geneticist Dan Bradley, from Trinity College Dublin, and his colleagues painstakingly extracted DNA from as many old cattle bones as they could get their hands on.

A zebu-shaped weight from Tel Beth-Shemesh.

A Hay / Tel Beth-Shemesh Excavations Expedition

“We tried to do as complete a survey of the ancient Near East as we could,” says Bradley.

It was an ambitious project, given the area they were working in. With ancient DNA, “sometimes it’s there and sometimes it isn’t,” says Bradley, “and in the ancient Near East, very often it’s not there”.

They ended up with data from the genomes of 67 cattle, including six aurochs. The animals spanned a period of history from 8000 years ago through to medieval times.

Early on, matings between domesticated cattle populations and local wild aurochs were common, according to the analysis.

The aurochs breeding with the domesticated cattle were most likely bulls, says Bradley.

“That makes sense,” he adds, because the bulls needn’t have been captured from the wild. Capturing and keeping a wild female auroch would have proven far more challenging.

Later on, around 4000 years ago, the genetic signature of zebu suddenly makes an appearance.

“There’s nothing, and then all of a sudden it’s all through the region,” says Bradley.

One possible explanation is a centuries-long drought at the time. The so-called 4.2-thousand-year abrupt climate event coincided with the collapse or decline of empires in ancient Mesopotamia, Egypt and the Indus Valley.

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“Zebu are better adapted to an arid climate,” says Bradley.

The trait may have been deliberately introduced by ancient Near Eastern herders.

It’s also possible that herders simply needed to re-stock with zebu cattle after drought wiped out – or dramatically reduced – their taurine herds.

Once again, the input was from the male line. “You can change the genetics of a herd, in terms of years, almost overnight. All you have to do is choose a bull,” says Bradley.

“That they can time the Zebu introgression and correlate it with these periods of drought is extremely cool,” says geneticist Rute da Fonseca from the University of Copenhagen, who was not involved in the study.

Bradley hopes to get DNA from more fossils from the region, to reveal in finer detail the timing of the influx of zebu and the route that the zebu cattle took from the Indus valley across to the Middle East.

Meanwhile, deeper sequencing could identify genes behind the traits that separated early domestic cattle from wild aurochs.

“It would be really interesting to ask which are the important genes that are changing” says Bradley. “Was it called coat colour? Was it genes linked to lactation – for example, milking? Were there changes in the genetics of behaviour? These are really interesting questions.”

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New dairy cattle breeding method increases genetic selection efficiency – Phys.Org

dairy cattle
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Brazilian scientists at São Paulo State University (UNESP) collaborating with colleagues at the University of Maryland and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) have developed a dairy cattle breeding method that adds a new parameter to genetic selection and conserves or even improves a population’s genetic diversity.

The study, which is published in Journal of Dairy Science, was funded by the São Paulo Research Foundation—FAPESP and USDA.

Besides genetic value associated with milk, fat and protein yields, the new method also takes into consideration the variance in gametic diversity and what the authors call “relative predicted transmitting ability,” defined as an individual animal’s capacity to transmit its genetic traits to the next generation based on this variance.

“Not all progeny of highly productive animals inherit this quality. The new method selects animals that will produce extremely productive offspring,” said Daniel Jordan de Abreu Santos, who conducted the study while he was a postdoctoral fellow at UNESP’s School of Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences (FCAV) in Jaboticabal, São Paulo State.

Santos is currently doing more postdoctoral research at the University of Maryland in the United States. This is his second stint at Maryland, where he was previously a research intern with a scholarship from the FAPESP.

“Gamete diversity variance is generated by the separation of homologous chromosomes and the rate of recombination between genes linked to them. It isn’t accounted for by the traditional selection method,” Santos told.

The new method estimates the probability of the transmission of traits to the next generation on the basis of the genetic data of a parent or the possible combinations in a given mating.

Although it was developed for the selection of any species, in this study, the method was applied to Holstein and Jersey dairy cattle because of the volume and quality of the available data.

In computer simulations, the method produced genetic gains of up to 16 percent in ten generations of Holstein cattle, compared with a control group for which gamete diversity was not a factor.

Genomics

The study was possible because matings can now be simulated using large genomics databases with genetic details for the animals involved, including genes associated with certain traits of interest in breeding programs.

Based on these data, scientists can estimate the possible combinations of the parents’ genetic material and predict the traits of their progeny. However, traits are not uniformly distributed among offspring.

Animals with the desired traits may produce offspring with very high or low levels of these same traits. As a result, the predicted traits of progeny in terms of milk, meat or fat yield are only an average of the parents’ traits. The new method enables scientists to estimate the substantial variation around this average.

“It’s now possible to predict which animals will produce highly productive offspring, above the expected average, before they mate. Gamete diversity is the factor that generates this estimate, determining the animal’s capacity to transmit the traits of interest to its progeny,” Santos said.

To apply the theory to an actual breeding program, Santos used data for over 160,000 Jersey cattle and approximately 1.4 million Holstein cattle from the database of the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service.

Holstein is the world’s major dairy breed and accounts for 90 percent of all US dairy cattle.

Software developed by the researchers was used to calculate the variation in all possible chromosome combinations and enabled them to separate individual animals with more or less gamete diversity variance.

“These variations can be used to select animals for specific purposes,” Santos said. “You can select animals to have more homogeneous progeny, which you might want to do in order to obtain traits such as birth weight, or more heterogeneous progeny and hence some offspring that are more productive than the expected average.”

Beyond guaranteeing that successive generations are as productive as their parents, the new parameter promises to produce major genetic gains in progeny bred from the same source animals.

The researchers also investigated the possible impact of the method on actual dairy herds. The match between variance based on genomic data and the actual variance observed in adult female progeny reached 90 percent in the case of 400 offspring per sire.

“This is cutting-edge science and will take some time to arrive in Brazil, but its current significance for us is that we import a lot of genetic material from US Holstein for breeding purposes and a large proportion of the Holstein genetic base in Brazil comes from semen produced in the US,” said Humberto Tonhati, Full Professor at FCAV-UNESP and principal investigator for the study in Brazil.

The new parameter also helps mitigate the reductive impact of selection on a population’s genetic diversity. In the case of livestock such as cattle, genetic variability tends to be low because of inbreeding.

“The new method offers a means of maintaining genetic variability. Individuals considered better by the traditional method will often be endogamous—offspring from the same gene pool—but when the new parameter is taken into account, they can no longer be classed among the best,” Santos said.


Explore further

Genes that could lead to improvement of beef cattle are identified


More information:
D.J.A. Santos et al, Variance of gametic diversity and its application in selection programs, Journal of Dairy Science (2019). DOI: 10.3168/jds.2018-15971

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New dairy cattle breeding method increases genetic selection efficiency (2019, July 5)
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'A bad situation': Minnesota farmer searches riverbanks for cattle swept away by flood – MPR News

A southern Minnesota farmer who had dozens of cattle swept away by flood waters Friday is continuing to search for the missing animals this weekend.

Bob Eustice said 56 cattle were caught up in the Zumbro River near Byron after torrential rain swamped the area late Thursday into early Friday. Video of the animals caught in the flooded river was widely viewed online.

• Related: U.S. Highway 52 reopens near Pine Island; major flooding continues downstream

Eustice told MPR News on Saturday that 30 of those cattle from his family’s farm have been located so far. Eustice spoke by phone after traveling a few miles north to the Genoa area to try to find others; he was following the sounds of a calf.

“I’m out in the middle of a woods, looking for where the calf is bellowing,” he said. “So we got a bad situation.”

But Eustice said he’s hopeful that the remaining animals will be found alive, because he had not seen any dead cattle while searching along the river. Floodwaters in that area, northwest of Rochester, were receding Saturday.

Once the river is back within its banks, Eustice said there will be more work to do.

“We’ve got to redo our fences for our pasture — and the pastures are pretty well gone now because the water took all the grass,” he said.

Eustice said he has set up a temporary corral to hold the cattle.

Elsewhere in southern Minnesota, Friday’s heavy rain — more than a half-foot in some locations — has caused new headaches for many farmers who have been unable to plant crops because of weeks of wet weather.

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