The BCI Research Program

By Steve Bartle, Ph.D., Research Associate

The Beef Cattle Institute Research program works within the BCI motto of: “Healthy People, Healthy Cattle, Healthy Planet” to strengthen the efficiency, profitability, and public profile of the beef cattle industry. We provide scientific information to the industry for decision making. We also educate graduate students, who will become future scientists and leaders in the beef industry.

We have two primary routes of training researchers for the future. The first group of graduate students is the traditional M.S. and Ph.D. students who wish to pursue a research career. These students spend 2 or 3 years earning a degree and become proficient in their subject area, research procedures, statistics and scientific writing. The other group is the “Concurrent DVM-M.S.” program. These are veterinary students with an interest in having a better knowledge of research practices and evaluation, and/or plan to pursue a Ph.D. at a later date. With planning and hard work, it is possible for a veterinary student to graduate with both a DVM and M.S. in four years. We have graduate students from Kansas, plus several other states, and one student from Mexico is scheduled to start in January. We also have a DVM who has practiced for about 8 years, and has decided to come back to complete a Ph.D.

The BCI Research program accepts the challenges of 1) Providing information that is relevant to the issues facing the industry, and 2) Using both traditional and innovative methods to generate the needed information.  During the summer of 2013, one of our DVM-MS students interned at a commercial feedlot and conducted research while gaining valuable field experience. The research project evaluated the effect of shade using traditional performance and profitability measures. What made the experiment somewhat unique was that it was conducted in a commercial feedlot on a commercial scale.  More than 1,400 head were randomly assigned to shade or no-shade pens. Other experiments conducted during 2013 in commercial settings dealt with the collection of tissue samples from feedlot cattle. One collection was during necropsy of late-day deads at commercial feedlots from Texas to Nebraska; the other involved tissue collections during processing at a commercial slaughter plant.

Additionally, during the summer of 2013, we conducted an intensive experiment on campus where 1,300 pound steers were fitted with heart ECG units. We collected a total of about six days of ECG data on 30 steers. Previously, the only ECG data available on cattle was collected on one or two animals standing in a chute for several minutes. Our data will provide biological benchmarks in cattle that will support future research, and address a current major concern in the industry.

The above examples are “randomized and controlled” experiments. Another research approach is called “retrospective” and involves mining data generated over time. During the summer of 2012, one of our DVM-MS students interned at a large dairy, and was given access to several years of health and production records. Using the commercially developed records and the appropriate mathematical and statistical tools, the relationship between respiratory sickness as a calf, survivability in the herd, milk production, and reproductive performance were evaluated.

With the Outreach and Animal Care Training efforts of the Beef Cattle Institute, the research group seeks to serve the beef industry and rural community using our experience and expertise. We invite interaction with all those involved in the beef industry.