McCaskill’s research aims to reduce pinkeye impact in cattle

Source: Farm Progress. The original article is posted here.

McCaskill’s research aims to reduce pinkeye impact in cattle

University of Nebraska-Lincoln student Marcus McCaskill wants to make pinkeye in cattle a thing of the past. The disease is more than an inconvenience—it costs the beef industry millions of dollars annually.

McCaskill is from Omaha, Nebraska, and is in the 3+2 Professional Program in veterinary medicine at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and Iowa State University. This program shortens the time vet students spend in school and will allow McCaskill to complete his bachelor’s degree in veterinary biomedical science at UNL while starting veterinary school at Iowa State. McCaskill plans to continue his pinkeye research while he finishes his veterinary medicine degree.

“Helping eradicate or limit the spread of the disease to help keep an animal population healthy is very interesting,” said McCaskill. “I also really enjoy working directly with the animals. Taking samples, pulling blood, giving them vaccines, getting hands-on experience, connecting with the animals, and bonding with them, even when they hate you in the process, is still fun to me.”

Research in the Beef Industry

McCaskill first got interested in researching pinkeye while working at the University of Nebraska Veterinary Diagnostic Center. McCaskill conducted his undergraduate research on the herd at the Eastern Nebraska Research Extension and Education Center. His work was recently featured at the Governor’s Mansion highlighting undergraduate research at the university.

“One of the biggest problems with pinkeye is that cattle will go blind and then they can’t properly feed themselves, leading to them becoming malnourished,” said McCaskill. “Then they don’t produce as much quality beef to be sold on the market.”

McCaskill’s research focused on finding pathogens associated with bacterial and viral pinkeye through an eye swab test that showed which pathogen’s DNA was present in the cattle. McCaskill’s research identified the differences in quantity and presence of two bacteria types and one virus found in cattle with pinkeye compared to cattle without pinkeye. He discovered the Moraxella bovis bacteria was found at a rate four and a half times higher in infected cattle compared to cattle without pinkeye.

Impact on the Beef Industry

According to McCaskill, pinkeye can have a serious impact on the beef industry both at the operation level and on a larger economic scale. Pinkeye spreads quickly causing ranchers to have to act fast to prevent the further spread of the disease and reduce discomfort to the infected cattle. These treatments cost time and money.

Pinkeye can lead to reduced weight gain, meaning less meat is produced.

“This affects the beef industry mainly in the fact that you’re not going to be selling as much as you can,” said McCaskill. “It’s a pretty big economic loss, so that’s one of the most major impacts of it. Trying to stop the spread of this disease to keep those impacts minimized is our goal.”

Opportunities and Challenges in the Beef Industry

McCaskill noted the spread of pinkeye and other similar diseases is a large challenge to the beef industry as it takes a lot of time, effort, and money to treat outbreaks and try to reduce the spread to non-infected members of the herd.

“People like me, my adviser Dr. Loy, or other researchers are trying to mitigate the spread of pinkeye,” said McCaskill. “We are just trying to keep our cattle healthy to keep Nebraska economically healthy.”

According to McCaskill, this challenge brings opportunities with it in terms of research and being able to build bigger and better operations with healthy herds. Science and research around disease mitigation such as pinkeye can give ranchers the chance to grow their operations and economically benefit Nebraska.

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