Work continues at Purdue University toward development of a rapid test to spot cattle coming into the feedyard with bovine respiratory disease (BRD). It is estimated BRD accounts for about half of all feedlot deaths in North America yearly. Current tests don't provide results for four or more days.
A team of Purdue researchers led by Mohit Verma, in the agricultural and biological engineering department, are developing a test that reduces BRD diagnosis time to just 30 minutes. The work has received multiple grants, including a $1 million grant from USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture Inter-Disciplinary Engagement in Animal Systems (IDEAS) in 2020, and multiple awards from the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) totaling $1.4 million in 2021.
Verma explained: "Bovine respiratory disease can be triggered by a number of bacteria and viruses, making treatment decisions difficult. By the time a test comes back in four or five days, the disease may have killed the calf or spread to many others in the feedlot."
Currently, BRD is treated with antibiotics known to be effective against the most common bacteria known to cause the disease. In some cases, however, these bacteria prove to be resistant to the antibiotic chosen, and treatment is ineffective. A faster diagnosis would both aid in choosing the best antibiotic the first time and reduce unnecessary treatment.
The FFAR award was tied to Verma's receipt of the New Innovator Award and the International Consortium for Antimicrobial Stewardship in Agriculture (ICASA) Technology Working Group Award. This most recent support means the Purdue research teams have additional industry collaborators including Cactus Feeders, Five Rivers Cattle, Tyson Foods, McDonalds and Elanco Health.
Verma said he first learned of the need for a rapid test from Purdue colleague Aaron Ault, who farmed and raised cattle near Rochester, Indiana.
Ault told Verma he spent weeks pulling as many as three dozen sick calves per day from his 3,000-head herd for treatment of BRD during a bad outbreak.
"The No. 1 struggle I have in farming is BRD," said Ault in a report from Purdue. "This technology can change that. But there's also an opportunity to collect much better data about the health of our cattle through machine learning, looking at the types and amounts of bacteria normally present in a calf's respiratory system and using that information to predict potential issues down the road."
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