Category Archives: 2011-7

Animal Health Series: It’s all in the genes

Assembled by Peggy Joseph-Potter RN, BSN, MHA

For anyone registering cattle, perusing pedigrees, or checking out potential semen donors, you may have found some unfamiliar notations following the animal’s name. Recent changes implemented by the American Hereford Association may affect both registration and management of your breeding program. In November 2010, the American Hereford Association implemented a mandatory DNA testing policy for all future walking sires. All Hereford sires born after January 1, 2011, need to be DNA genotyped at the official American Hereford Association DNA laboratory before their progeny can be registered. The intent of the policy is to improve the quality control of pedigrees and to test for three non-lethal genetic abnormalities. The same requirement for all AI sires and donor dams was previously implemented. Why the change you may ask? According to Joe Roybal of Beef Magazine, it was prompted by the difficulties and expense in determining sires in the standard breeds. The issue with genetic testing was most likely prompted by the Angus industry when Arthrogryposis Multiplex, a very popular sire, lead to the genetic evaluation of 10,000 direct sons and daughters after it was discovered he carried the lethal gene for Curly Calf Syndrome.

Recessive genes are responsible for the development of three genetic abnormalities known to be present in Hereford cattle, Dilutor-Rat Tail, Hypotrichosis and Idiopathic Epilepsy. Therefore, an animal seemingly normal in appearance can produce offspring that demonstrate recessive gene abnormalities. Genetic abnormalities are inherited defects, their form may be extreme, showing visible signs with a lethal result or they may be less obvious, causing premature abortion, early embryonic death or produce animals that are weak, slow growing with lower vigor, fertility and longevity.
Recessive inheritance can cause a parent to carry the defective gene and appear normal; the parent is then known as a carrier. If both parents pass the defective gene to the offspring, the genetic defect shows up and the genetic condition in the offspring is called homozygous recessive. The defective gene in the carrier animal is present along with the normal gene and this condition is termed heterozygous. The underlying problem of genetic defects is that parents that appear to be perfectly normal can be carriers and so can produce offspring that are defective. Parents that never produce defective progeny are in the majority and are called homozygous normal. At first glance, it seems that if we could identify carrier animals and eliminate them from the breeding population the problem of recessive genetic defects would be solved. However, it is necessary to explore the problem a little further before deciding that identifying carriers is necessarily worth the money and effort.

Symptoms of the Dilutor-Rat Tail gene are as follows: Carrier Hereford bulls or females when mated to black cattle can produce offspring with a hair coat that is gray, smokey or chocolate color. Hypotrichosis gene: Partial to almost complete lack of hair. Affected calves are often born with very short, fine, kinky hair that may fall out leaving bare spots or areas particularly susceptible to rubbing. The condition may vary in expression as the animal matures and is usually less noticeable in older animals. The hair coat will sometimes appear “frosted” or “silverish.” Tail switch may be underdeveloped.
Idiopathic Epilepsy gene: Age of onset or first seizure can be variable, ranging from birth to several months of age. Occurrence and persistence of seizure may be influenced by environmental stressors such as temperature extremes or increased physical activity. Upon initial onset of seizure episodes individuals will typically lie on their sides with all limbs extended in a rigid state. Manual flexing of the limbs is possible, but return to the extended position occurs after release. Seizure episodes may last from several minutes to more than an hour. Carrier Free (F) identifies the animal as tested and the results indicate that the animal is not a carrier.

Breeders wanting to have their animals tested must use the AHA official lab, Maxxam Analytics. All samples submitted for parentage will also be tested for genetic abnormalities. The cost for DNA testing of less than 50 animals is $32/head for hair samples and $37/head for semen, blood or tissue. In order to test your animals, call the AHA office, 816-842-3757, and request a DNA kit. You will need to have your animal’s registration number available. You will receive a Genetic Marker Test form. Each form is specifically bar coded to the registration number of the animal.

Instructions for obtaining a hair sample: Pull hair samples above the tail switch. Do not cut the hair. The hair root contains the materials needed for DNA testing. Pull 20-25 hairs evenly and directly from the tail so the hair does not break. The switch must be dry and brushed clean of all debris. The lab suggests wrapping the hair around a pencil and then pulling.

According to Jonathan Beever, a leader in cattle genetics, the issue is one of management and accurately identifying carriers through genetic testing; eliminating the gene source is contrary to overall breed improvement. In the absence of DNA testing, genetic abnormalities can be minimized by utilizing outbreeding and examining pedigrees to avoid mating of animals with common ancestors within at least two or three generations. In addition, the practice of turning over the sires after one or two breeding seasons and using fewer cows per bull reduces the chances of producing animals with inherited defects. No matter which process you use to protect your herd be aware of the possibility of genetic abnormities and plan you program accordingly.

American Hereford Association. AHA implements new DNA policy for walking herd sires. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from The Pairie Star.
Causes of Gentic Abnormalities in Cattle. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from Petahia.
DNA Testing Procedures. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from American Hereford Association.
Roybal, J. Avoiding THE WORST. Retrieved May 1, 2011, from BEEF.
Peggy and her husband, Bob Potter, own and operate PJ Ranch LLC in Winton, California. They have been Miniature Hereford owners and active participants in the MHBA since 2002. She is employed as a critical care nurse for a local medical center.

Where have all the vets gone?

Where have all the veterinarians gone?
Charlotte Williams 6/15/2011
This is a question that an increasing number of rural areas are asking, particularly in the area of food animal care. Food animal practitioners now make up fewer than 10 percent of the veterinarians in the United States, according to a 2006 study by the Food Supply Veterinary Medicine Coalition. Their work includes a wide variety of skills, from prevention and disease control on production farms to USDA food safety and inspection to laboratory analysis of processed meat samples.

A number of programs are actively in place throughout the country to combat this growing problem, including state student loan repayment programs, rural veterinary internships, and others. For example, last year Dr. Joe Hillhouse participated in an initiative led by the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) through the AVMA/AVMF Food Animal Veterinary Recruitment and Retention Program to provide student loan debt forgiveness for veterinarians who met the requirements.

His practice in the small Texas towns of Borger and Panhandle also actively recruits from schools as far away as Cornell University in New York to provide internships for students who are considering a life away from the big city.

He also assisted this year in hosting the annual Food Animal Production Tour for first and second year veterinary students from Texas A&M University. They traveled over a thousand miles to visit facilities in the Texas Panhandle and to taste the sweet life in small towns. The Tour is designed to showcase state-of-the-art operations in the dairy, feedlot, swine, and beef industries and to show potential food animal veterinarians the multitudes of opportunities in food supply veterinary medicine.

This year’s cow/calf tours included a visit to the 6666 Ranch – a working Angus cattle ranch that is part of the 275,000 acre Burnett Ranches – a visit to an organic dairy, and a final stop at the WW Ranch Miniature Herefords. Quite a variety of experiences!

Unlike the larger facilities, the WW Ranch allowed the students to interact directly with the animals and to see the positive, close relationship that can develop between a veterinarian and his clients. Dr. Joe is a regular visitor to the ranch for show papers, brucellosis vaccinations, and the occasional foot rot or “what is THAT??” treatment. It also gives his interns a small, gentle set of cattle to become comfortable with procedures before tackling the Big Guys.

The Tour concluded with a lunch sponsored by the owners of WW Ranch, Steve & Charlotte Williams, at a local brewery club, and a warm send-off for the final bus trip back to College Station, TX.

Hopefully the support of people and programs like these will continue to encourage young veterinarians to make the choice to provide care for our nation’s food animals. Whether you drink milk, wear a sweater, or eat the occasional BLT, your life is affected by the direction their lives take.


For Ranch Wives Everywhere

“For ranch wives everywhere”

This time of year, when the cattle are being worked and shipped, is usually a time of high stress on ranch marriages – not unlike calving, lambing, planting, haying, combining, feeding, and all of the other seasons of ranch wife life.
Julie Carter of Carrizozo, New Mexico, whose ‘Cowgirl Sass’ articles sometimes appear in Agri-News, wrote these Ranch Wife 101 Guidelines, which seem very appropriate to share during shipping season. She is obviously a genius because these are good enough to hang on the refrigerator!

Never – and I repeat never – ever believe the phrase, ‘We’ll be right back,’ when he has asked you to help him do something on the ranch. The echoing words, ‘This will only take a little while,’ have tricked generations of ranch wives and still today should invoke sincere distrust in the woman who hears them.
Always know there is no romantic intention when he pleadingly asks you to take a ride in the pickup with him around the ranch while he checks water and cattle. What that sweet request really means is that he wants someone to open the gates.

He will always expect you to be able to quickly find one stray in a four-section brush-covered pasture, but he will never be able to find the mayonnaise jar in a four-square-foot refrigerator.
Always load your horse last in the trailer so it is the first one unloaded. By the time he gets his horse unloaded, you will have your cinch pulled and be mounted up – lessening the chance of him riding off without you while your horse tries to follow with you hopping along beside it, still trying to get your foot in the stirrup.

Count everything you see – cattle especially, but also horses, deer, quail or whatever moves. Count it in the gate, or on the horizon. The first time you don’t count is when he will have expected that you did. That blank eyelash-batting look you give him when he asks, ‘How many?’ will not be acceptable.

Know that you will never be able to ride a horse or drive a pickup to suit him. Given the choice of jobs, choose throwing the feed off the back of the truck to avoid the opportunity for constant criticism of your speed, ability, and eyesight. ( How in the $@*!&* could you NOT see that hole?’)

Never allow yourself to be on foot in the alley when he is sorting cattle on horseback. When he has shoved 20 head of running, bucking, kicking yearlings at you and hollers, ‘Hold ‘em, hold ‘em!’ at the top of his lungs, don’t think that you really can do that without loss of life or limb. Contrary to what he will lead you to believe, walking back to the house is always an option that has been exercised throughout time.

Don’t expect him to correctly close snap-on tops on plastic refrigerator containers, but know he will expect you to always close every gate. His reasoning is that the cows will get out, but the food cannot.
Always praise him lavishly when he helps in the kitchen – the very same way he does when you help him with ranch work – OR NOT!

Finally, know that when you step out of the house, you move from ‘wife’ to ‘hired hand’ status. Although the word ‘hired’ indicates there will be a paycheck (that you will never see), rest assured that you have job security. The price is just right, and you will always be ‘the best help he has’ – mainly because you are the ONLY help he has!”