Researchers are collaborating to learn more about bovine respiratory disease and how to manage it.

For more than 25 years, a group of university and USDA researchers have leveraged their strength in numbers to take on bovine respiratory disease (BRD).

Classified as the “NC-107” research group by the government from which much of the group's research monies come the collaborative effort includes scientists from 20 state land-grant universities as well as USDA laboratories in Ames, IA.

Goals for the group include:

  • developing and testing methods to diagnose BRD,

  • determining how management tools can impact BRD control methods,

  • determining how BRD is produced,

  • determining how cattle resist BRD, and

  • keeping abreast of any changes in the nature and cause of BRD outbreaks in feedlots, ranches and dairies.

The researchers cooperate on projects ranging from clinical trials to molecular investigations, says Ricardo Rosenbusch, an Iowa State University veterinary professor and member of the group.

No one single action or change can be expected to eliminate or even control BRD, he explains. BRD is typically caused by more than one pathogen and is influenced by human decisions like marketing practices, management practices and economically justifiable treatments.

Studying BRD management strategies is part of NC-107's five-year plan, Rosenbusch says. Specifically, the researchers will look at the use of antibiotic treatment on arrival and vaccination plans prior to commingling or as a part of preconditioning.

To monitor any changes in the nature or cause of the disease, the group also plans to summarize BRD pathogen data from 13 state diagnostic labs.

“This should confirm the role of known pathogens and alert us to any changes,” Rosenbusch says.

Using capabilities for fingerprinting specific strains of BRD, the researchers also will track the evolution of multiple pathogens through large BRD outbreaks.

“Some of these capabilities are very sophisticated and may only be available for one or a few pathogens in any given lab,” he explains. “By stressing collaborative efforts, a more comprehensive study can be made in specific, pre-planned scenarios.”

The group, formed in the 1960s, shares its findings with veterinarians in private practices and diagnostic laboratories.

Several major accomplishments in BRD research involve the work of NC-107 members, Rosenbusch says. One of the most notable, he says, is the affirmation of Mannheimia haemolytica as a major pathogen in causing BRD. Studies on the immunology to this agent led to early vaccines, and studies on the toxin produced by the agent led to improved vaccines.

“These improved vaccines are extensively used by cattlemen, together with multiple other vaccines, therapies and management practices,” Rosenbusch explains. Other accomplishments include:

  • developing and testing treatment-on-arrival protocols in feedlots,

  • discovering key steps by which some viruses can remain hidden in normal cattle over time, and

  • discovering and studying new or emerging agents of BRD, such as BRSV, BVD type 2, bovine respiratory coronavirus and Mycoplasma bovis.

The group's research is supported by USDA. It's also funded through competitively acquired grants from various government agencies, private industry and commodity groups.

NC-107 leaders are: Robert Fulton, chair, Oklahoma State University; Ricardo Rosenbusch, Iowa State University; Glynn Frank, USDA's National Animal Disease Center; Eli Asem, Purdue University; Fred Cholick, South Dakota State University; and William Wagner, USDA's Cooperative State Research, Education and Extension Services.