Challenges are easier to solve when they are binary — yes or no, true or false, black or white. But when dealing with biology, it’s rarely that simple.
Example No. 1: Bovine congestive heart failure (BCHF)-related deaths. Is it a management issue, a genetic problem, or some of both?
A recent episode of The Angus Conversation explored the topic, with guests Randall Spare, Ashland Veterinary Center; Darrell Stevenson, Stevenson Angus Ranch; and Kelli Retallick-Riley, Angus Genetics Inc.
“If there is an underlying genetic component, no matter how small it is or large it is, we want to find that out for American Angus Association members, because when they make a change, it’s a change for the beef industry,” Retallick-Riley said, adding later, “This isn’t 100% controlled by genetics, and so that means to us that obviously there are a lot of other environmental and management factors that are going to influence this.”
At its core, BCHF is a non-infectious form of heart disease that causes the heart to stop as it progresses. Chronic high blood pressure damages tissues, causing inflammation that results in less elasticity — and that makes the heart work harder.
While the definition seems straightforward enough, the challenge is finding out what causes it and what cattlemen can do about it.
When trying to solve any health puzzle, clients will often ask Spare, “Why?”
“They generally want me to give them one specific answer. Well, because you have low vitamin A or you’re not feeding them enough,” he notes. “I’m reminded about a gentleman at a diagnostic lab when I was first starting to practice and I was wanting to give that one specific answer. And he said, ‘Well, Randall, oftentimes it’s not one thing that causes the problem;, it’s a myriad of issues.’”
That’s proven true throughout his career, and early research on BCHF would show the same.
“We’ve changed the animals that we’re feeding today, and we’ve changed our practices … does that make a difference?” Spare asks.
Stevenson recapped a retrospective analysis that Kansas State University completed.
“There is no bias,” he said. “There’s no significance towards sex, towards weight, towards breed of cattle — and the simple fact is that as of today, over 70% of the harvested cattle in the United States are black-hided.”
BCHF is happening in native beef, beef-on-dairy, and straight dairy populations at nearly the same incidence, and that’s close to 0.07% of deaths over a population of 4.5 million. Yet, making hearts healthier is a hot topic, because in addition to curtailing a cause of feedyard deaths, it could help make the surviving population better, too.
“I think we will be overwhelmed with results in general cattle health and general feed efficiency if we can actually narrow this down,” Stevenson said.
Today, Angus is supporting research through the Angus Foundation, working on the Heart Health Initiative through Angus Genetics Inc., and is providing information through Angus Media. It’s an across-entity approach to helping find answers and solutions, Stevenson said.
To catch the entire conversation, find “Bovine Congestive Heart Failure: An Angus Issue, an Industry Issue or No Issue At All?” on all major podcast platforms, or play the episode below.