Montana cattle ranchers still have time to screen their herds for animals persistently infected (PI) with the bovine viral diarrhea (BVD) virus. And the managers of the Montana BVD-PI Herd Screening Project believe there may be added incentive beyond better herd health for ranchers who identify PI-negative calves. They simply may be worth more money come marketing time.

"We think calves screened as PI-negative deserve at least a 4¢/lb. price advantage over unscreened calves," says Clint Peck, Montana director of Beef Quality Assurance. "PI-negative status says the animals aren't persistently infected with the BVD virus and greatly reduces the risk of spreading the disease throughout the production chain."

The cattle industry has long been aware of the costs associated with the BVD virus. But it's only been over the last couple of years that commercial cattlemen have had the tools to economically diagnose PI cattle.

"We always suggest to ranchers the first reason to screen herds for BVD-PIs is for herd-health purposes," Peck says. "Using their screening results to gain a market advantage is icing on the cake."

The cost of the presence of at least one PI animal in a beef breeding herd can range from $14-24/cow/year. BVD can inhibit conception and/or cause abortion in susceptible females, but it also suppresses the immune system, making infected animals more susceptible to other diseases.

The costs and impacts of the BVD virus can escalate once calves leave the ranch and end up in a feedlot, says John Paterson, Montana State University Extension beef specialist, Bozeman.

"The BVD-PI calf that exposes its feedlot pen mates to massive amounts of BVD virus on a daily basis creates economic chaos for the feedlot operator," Paterson says. "Kansas feedyard research indicates there's a $47/head cost for every animal going into the feedyard because of PI exposure."

So far, the Montana project has signups from about 200 Montana ranchers representing about 70,000 head of cattle. The 2007 goal is to screen at least 100,000 head of Montana cattle.

Participating ranchers receive all screening supplies, plus up to $250 worth of screening services from grant money garnered through the Montana Stockgrowers Association. Other collaborators include Intervet and Animal Profiling International of Portland, OR.

"We're still taking applications and signing up ranchers," Peck says. "But, for most ranchers we recommend screening before breeding season begins -- which is right around the corner here in Montana."

For more info, contact Peck at cpeck@montana.edu or 406-896-9068 or Paterson at johnp@montana.edu or 406-994-5562.

-- Joe Roybal