Animal Production and Protection
Breeding Healthier Cattle and Sustainable Seafood
Breeding better cattle, swine, and seafood not only helps ranchers and farmers but also reaps benefits that show up on our dinner tables. However, farm animals and seafood need to be produced more economically and on sustainable diets. ARS researchers are at the forefront of cutting-edge genomics research that is leading to big payoffs, providing breeders with the molecular tools they need to improve on key traits such as disease resistance. As a result, we have cattle that are better able to resist mastitis and respiratory disease and grow efficiently to marketable sizes. We also have catfish better equipped to fight off enteric septicemia, a highly infectious bacterial disease, and other infections. ARS genomic advances have made it possible to breed catfish yielding fillets that are 7 percent larger than currently produced fillets. If adopted industry-wide, these larger catfish would add 22 million pounds of edible seafood to the Nation's food supply. For the dairy industry, ARS genetic advances increased the rate of the cattle's reproductive success without compromising progress made toward breeding for better milk production. The dairy industry is more interested these days in producing milk with the right amounts of fat and protein to meet market demands than on increasing total milk volume. ARS scientists are helping to address that goal and also improving animal health, fertility, and lifespan with genetic improvements. If implemented by the Nation's dairy producers, these improvements could translate into $2.5 million in added profits each year.
Controlling a Global Foot-and-Mouth Disease Threat
Foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) is a highly contagious disease that affects cattle, pigs, small ruminants, and wildlife, and it’s considered a global threat to agriculture. Although FMD was eradicated in the United States in 1929, its reintroduction would result in an estimated $200 billion in lost revenue over 10 years. ARS scientists have developed an effective vaccine that could be produced and stored in the United States in the event of an outbreak. They have also developed a companion diagnostic test for the vaccine that will allow veterinarians and regulatory officials to tell the difference between vaccinated and infected animals—critical if an outbreak were to occur so that vaccinated animals need not be culled. This is the first licensed FMD diagnostic kit approved for manufacturing in the United States. Such breakthroughs will provide veterinarians and first responders with new countermeasures for quickly controlling an outbreak.
Research Project: Foot-And-Mouth Disease Virus Diagnostic Test Development in Uganda
Keeping Ticks in Check
Cattle fever is transmitted from bites by a tick, and it can kill up to 90 percent of infected cattle. The disease has been eradicated in the United States, but a quarantine area along the Texas-Mexico border is still being closely monitored. As part of that effort, ARS discovered that cattle fever ticks also infect white-tailed deer and antelope, which can both enter the quarantine zone and subsequently transport ticks to areas where they will infect U.S. cattle. An outbreak could cost more than $100 million to eradicate. To reduce the risk, ARS researchers invented a system that kills ticks by treating wild deer with permethrin (an insecticide), which in turn reduces the risk that ticks will bite and infect cattle. Deer are treated with levels of permethrin that are safe for the deer but deadly for ticks. This same technology is now being tested on deer in suburban areas to target ticks that carry Lyme disease.
ARS researchers also assisted in the use and development of two vaccines, each effective in targeting one of the two species of ticks that carry cattle fever. Partners in the project include USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). The combination of these technologies is helping protect U.S. cattle against cattle fever and ticks that spread this disease, which supports efforts to maintain and improve livestock health and producer profits.
Protecting Our Troops From Insect-Borne Diseases
Infectious diseases caused by the bites of blood-sucking mosquitoes, sand flies, and ticks have felled many in the U.S. military, but ARS is now helping to protect our troops overseas by developing repellent treatments for military clothing. The U.S. Marine Corps determined that when one of our Marines is infected with malaria, a potentially fatal disease, the medical treatment costs U.S. taxpayers about $18,000. ARS scientists developed permethrin (an insecticide) as a clothing treatment specifically to protect military personnel. They also conducted studies showing that permethrin-treated uniforms exhibited a high level of protection throughout the entire lifetime of the uniform. Permethrin-treated clothing is also available now to civilians. ARS researchers also developed use of etofenprox, a chemical compound, for a larger range of fabrics. The compound is the first new repellent registered to treat uniforms and other material since permethrin was developed in 1991.
Making Catfish Farming More Profitable
U.S. catfish farming is a national industry with 624 commercial farmers in 32 States producing over 385 million pounds of catfish in 2016, valued at $363 million. Most of that production is on small, family-owned operations averaging only 160 "water acres." USDA classifies 84 percent of these catfish farms as small businesses, with annual sales of less than $500,000, and 38 percent with annual revenues of less than $25,000. These farmers have survived due to increases in production efficiency through innovative technologies such as those developed by ARS scientists in Stoneville, MS, and their collaborators at Mississippi State University. ARS scientists are making these operations more efficient, profitable, and environmentally friendly by developing new systems that recirculate water. These "split-pond" systems have two adjoined sections: a small end that houses the fish and a large end with water and no fish. To eliminate waste from the pond, water containing dissolved and solid fish waste circulates from the small end of the pond for treatment in the large end. The water is then recirculated to the fish. Split ponds reduce the amount of water and land used for fish production and give producers greater control over the pond environment. They also give the fish a better chance to stay healthy and grow to marketable sizes. Farmers who have adopted the new "split-pond" system advanced by ARS researchers have seen their annual production levels rise to over 12,000 pounds of catfish per acre, more than twice the levels in traditional ponds.
Research Project: Water Quality and Production Systems to Enhance Production of Catfish
Saving Poultry From the Flu
An outbreak of highly pathogenic avian influenza in the winter and spring of 2014-15 was the largest animal disease outbreak in U.S. history, resulting in over 48 million birds dying or being destroyed and losses of $3.3 billion. Vaccinating poultry with existing vaccine stockpiles was considered an option for controlling the outbreak. But at the beginning of the outbreak, ARS researchers tested the available vaccines and found them inadequate for protection against this highly pathogenic virus. Avian influenza vaccines need to be updated to match the strain that is circulating and causing infections, just like human vaccines. The closer the match, the better the protection. So, ARS scientists went to work and started constructing a new vaccine. Working with a commercial partner, ARS scientists showed that the vaccine they developed was highly protective. The updated vaccine was licensed, and in 2016, the USDA purchased 68 million doses to stockpile as a precaution in the event of another outbreak.
Article: Giving Poultry a Healthy Start
Article: Going Overseas To Protect U.S. Poultry
Research Project: Development and Evaluation of Poultry Vaccines Against Low and High Pathogenicity Avian Influenza Viruses
Controlling a Flesh-Eating Pest
There is nothing good to say about the screwworm Cochliomyia hominivorax. It is a parasite that kills livestock and other warm-blooded animals. It lays eggs in open wounds on the host animal, and when the larvae hatch, they feed on the host's living flesh. ARS research helped to eradicate screwworm from the United States 30 years ago. ARS researchers in the 1950s developed an effective remedy: the sterile fly technique, which released sterile (infertile) screwworm flies into infested areas so they would mate with wild screwworm flies that could then not produce progeny. The practice saves U.S. livestock producers at least $900 million annually. ARS and USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) continue to collaborate on a sterile-fly rearing facility in Panama to create a barrier in Central America that prevents the spread of screwworms from South America. However, in 2016, screwworms were detected at two sites in Florida—on wildlife in the Florida Keys and later on a stray dog miles away in Homestead. ARS scientists, working with APHIS and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, brought in nearly 154 million sterile flies from the Panama facility and released them in the Keys and southern Florida. They also conducted genetic tests to try to pinpoint the source of the outbreak so that regulatory officials could "close the door" and prevent future outbreaks. By April 2017, just 6 months after the infestation was discovered, APHIS announced that the screwworm had been successfully eradicated in Florida. This is a great example of the unique capacity ARS maintains that can be wielded to protect U.S. food, feed, and animals.
Research Project: Management of Flies Associated with Livestock