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United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Healthy Animals Newsletter

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Issue 24, January 2006
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ARS Cow Fertility and Reproduction Research Helps Fill Out U.S. Herds

A lot is riding on the backs of cows in the United States. According to USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS), the United States has the largest fed-cattle industry in the world and is the world's largest producer of beef. Following beef, milk has the highest farm production value in U.S. agriculture.

That's why it's important for ARS to ensure an abundant and safe supply of dairy and beef products at a competitive price for the world economy. ARS' Food Animal Production national research program works to meet these responsibilities by overseeing studies aimed at improving the reproductive efficiency of livestock and improving genetic selection.

A cow and her calf.

Research efforts include improving reproductive performance of animals through nutrition, health management and genetics. Research advances and new biotechnologies are being developed to reduce losses caused by reproductive problems and maximize output of high-quality meat and milk.

In Beltsville, Md., the Animal Improvement Programs Laboratory introduced a national genetic evaluation for dairy cattle fertility. The evaluations will help breeders improve their herd's reproductive performance, according to Duane Norman, ARS supervisory research geneticist. Dairy producers and breeding companies also have information on "daughter calving ease" to describe a cow's ability to give birth easily. This is important information to use when selecting mating bulls. Details on this are now included in a database, along with information on other fitness traits that affect health, vigor and profitability. Breed associations have rapidly adopted these new evaluations in selection programs.

U.S. livestock are produced in a wide array of environments and management systems. Selection generally leads to narrowing the genetic base. Improvements in the efficiency of livestock production have resulted from advances in genetic selection programs. Maintaining genetic diversity is essential for livestock to adapt to different climates, production systems and exposure to new diseases.

For example, ARS researchers led a group of collaborators in obtaining germplasm for Holstein cattle, the United States' primary dairy cattle breed. The donation of a large bull semen collection to ARS is helping breeders preserve genetic diversity in beef and dairy cattle. The National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) at the National Center for Genetic Resources Preservation in Fort Collins, Colo., will identify, preserve, characterize and distribute germplasm for future use, according to NAGP coordinator Harvey Blackburn. The associated information will be stored in the animal component of the GRIN (Genetic Resources Information Network) database. The collection will help researchers and industry partners develop animals with valuable traits such as disease resistance and improved meat and milk production.

This is just a sampling of ARS' research to increase the efficiency and sustainability of production of beef and dairy cattle, poultry, swine and sheep. Other researchers at 17 locations across the United States are involved in 50 research projects in the Food Animal Production national program. For more information, visit their website.

Research Briefs

ARS scientists and university collaborators worked together to develop new tests that rapidly detect and differentiate bacteria that cause Johne's disease.

Ground was recently broken on a new ARS state-of-the-art poultry research facility in Beltsville, Md.

ARS researchers in El Reno, Okla., have partnered with two companies to develop hand-held remote sensors that use spectral reflectance technology to display forage nutrient quality data.

A new ARS online database provides users with information on swine genes and proteins related to nutrition and immunity.

ARS researchers have published findings for breeders regarding ram sexual performance.

A more effective way to produce faster-growing trout was developed by ARS scientists.

Fish oil and other nutritional supplements could give a boost to pig immunity, according to ARS scientists.


Each year the President of the United States recognizes and celebrates a select group of career senior executives and senior professionals (research and staff scientists) with the Presidential Rank Award for exceptional long-term accomplishments. There are two categories of rank awards: Distinguished and Meritorious. ARS has one Distinguished Senior Professional for 2005 among its honorees.

Ronald Fayer, a research zoologist in Beltsville, Md., was selected for his discoveries and contributions to the biology, epidemiology and control of three major parasitic diseases of livestock and humans: coccidiosis, sarcocystosis, and cryptosporidiosis.

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Last Modified: 2/6/2007