Estimating cattle movement sheds light on disease risk

Krissa Welshans 1, Feedstuffs Editor

August 14, 2015

5 Min Read
Estimating cattle movement sheds light on disease risk

A NEW technique developed by a Kansas State University researcher helps estimate the movement of beef cattle to determine the risk of disease.

Caterina Scoglio, professor of electrical and computer engineering, co-authored a study that used aggregated data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to estimate detailed movement of cattle. (Privacy concerns in the U.S. prevent animal health officials from obtaining and sharing full cattle movement data.)

"Movement in other countries is well documented, but not in the U.S.," Scoglio said. "A national animal (identification) system is not in place, so there are no detailed data on where cattle come and where they go."

Highly accurate risk assessments or predictions of disease spread depend on knowing how cattle move through the central U.S.

"We have disaster response plans, but to know where to act effectively to stop an epidemic requires movement data," Scoglio said.

"This study provides a cost-effective approach to estimate cattle movements from available aggregate data," said Phillip Schumm, research geneticist at USDA's Agricultural Research Service and co-author of the study.

Other studies have predicted movement between counties, but this study predicts movement within types of premises in counties, such as from one small cow/calf producer to feedlots in two different counties at a given distance or from one producer to another.

Scoglio and her collaborators divided premises into nine types and then imposed constraints to capture industry and farm procedures.

For instance, cattle headed to a slaughter facility move in only one direction. The authors estimated the movement parameters by having minimal assumptions beyond the information contained within the set of constraints.

"We create a network of cattle movement in this way," Scoglio said. "Based on this, we used an epidemic model to assess possible scenarios of a foot and mouth disease outbreak."

The study revealed a significant risk of a disease infiltrating the U.S. cattle system, but it was suggested that further investigation of accurate epidemic models and animal movement parameters is needed.

Other researchers are also striving to understand threats to global food systems.

Scoglio is working on another project with Kansas State University collaborators in diagnostic medicine and pathobiology, agricultural economics and psychological sciences to add truck movements to the model and to gather more data. Scoglio's group shares downloadable data files and methods online in an effort to invite others to build on the work.

"The better the data, the more we know and can better protect the beef cattle industry," Scoglio said.

"An Estimation of Cattle Movement Parameters in the Central States of the U.S." was published in the August 2015 issue of Computers & Electronics in Agriculture and was based on work supported by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and the Kansas Biosciences Authority.


Educational module

The Beef Cattle Institute (BCI) at Kansas State University, in conjunction with Merck Animal Health, has released the first module in the CreatingConnections Educational Series, which features industry experts who share insights and proven techniques to help ensure low-stress cattle handling.

The module, now available on the CreatingConnections website at, focuses on acclimation — specifically, how to best help cattle adjust and thrive in a new environment, which is critical to the health and well-being of an animal.

A team of experts that included Dan Thomson, a veterinarian and director of the BCI, developed the module. Thomson facilitated a roundtable discussion about acclimation during the video. Other team members included veterinarians Paulo Loureiro with Merck Animal Health and Tom Noffsinger with Production Animal Consultation (PAC).

"CreatingConnections is an opportunity to truly collaborate with industry and practitioners to provide veterinarians and producers tools for improving cattle management," Thomson said. "The BCI has developed a platform that is used daily by beef producers worldwide, and it is awesome to amplify Merck Animal Health and PAC's visions to bring this information and training on low-stress cattle handling to more (cattle producers') farms."

The modules are being developed to help cattle producers, employees and veterinarians provide the best possible care for cattle via education, information and training. Each module includes a learning assessment tool and certificate that can be customized and printed when successfully completed. Participants need to achieve 80% or better on the learning assessment to receive the certificate.

The modules are complimentary to Merck Animal Health customers. Others may purchase the modules at for $50 to residents in the U.S. and Canada.

"Producers know relocating cattle can cause stress, which can directly impact suppression of the immune system, susceptibility to health challenges and decreased performance. Minimizing that stress is key," Loureiro said.

"We've gathered real-world examples to demonstrate handling techniques that are pivotal to working successfully with cattle and helping them to acclimate more quickly to new surroundings. This video details how to gauge each animal's individual characteristics, as well as identify the influential animals and work with them to establish trust and confidence throughout the herd," he added.


Iowa beef council director

The Iowa Beef Industry Council's board of directors recently selected a new executive director at their August board meeting.

Effective Oct. 1, Chris Freland of Prairie City, Iowa, will lead the Iowa beef checkoff organization. She replaces Nancy Degner, who is retiring on Sept. 30 after 40 years at the Iowa Beef Industry Council, the last 12 as executive director.

Freland formerly worked as industry relations manager for the Midwest Dairy Assn., where she also served as associate director of the Iowa State Dairy Assn.

According to the council, Freland is experienced in commodity boards and promotion efforts funded by livestock producers, and her background additionally gives her an understanding of the separation of funds for policy and checkoff activities.

"Iowa is home to a robust and growing livestock industry. It is with great enthusiasm I will be serving as an agricultural advocate and executive leader for the beef farmers in Iowa," Freland said. "It continues to be an exciting time to be involved in agriculture with the many opportunities that lie ahead."

Volume:87 Issue:31

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