Cattle Movement Examines Disease Risk In Beef Industry

First Posted: Aug 03, 2015 01:17 PM EDT

Kansas State University researchers have developed a new technique to help estimate the movement of beef cattle in determining the risk of disease.

For the study, researchers used aggregated data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to estimate detailed movement of cattle, as privacy concerns in the United States prevent animal health officials from obtaining and sharing full information on cattle movement.

"We have disaster response plans, but to know where to act effectively to stop an epidemic requires movement data," said Caterina Scoglio, professor of electrical and computer engineering, co-authored a study, in a news release.

"This study provides a cost-effective approach to estimate cattle movements from available aggregate data," added study co-author Phillip Schumm, research geneticist at the Department of Agriculture-Agricultural Research Service.

Previous studies have also predicted cattle movement between counties. However, the directions of movements were not completely understood as a cow/calf produce to feedlots might be in two different counties at a given distance or from one producer to another.

In this particular study, the researchers divided premises into nine types that imposed constraints to capture the industry and farm procedures, which meant that cattle headed to a slaughter facility would move in one direction, only.

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

While findings showed a significant risk of a disease infiltrating the American cattle system, further studies will be needed to determine the accuracy of epidemic models and animal movement parameters. This will require better data in order to protect the beef cattle industry, according to researchers. 

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