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UW develops a high-altitude disease test and sale for regional bulls

Chase Markel and Bryson Mills

Cattle in the Rocky Mountain West are more susceptible to a high altitude disease, and researchers at the University of Wyoming are developing a program to test cattle for the disease and then sell them to regional producers at a private treaty sale.

Cattle living above 5,000 feet elevation can struggle with a lack of oxygen. It can be linked to something called brisket disease, which is fatal.

“They get a lot of fluid buildup within the brisket, they start to get labored breathing, distention of their jugular vein, and you can really start to see that they're having issues with performance,” Shelby Rosasco, an animal science professor at UW and beef specialist, said. “They start to lose weight, and you'll notice they're just not looking as healthy as our normal cattle.”

Cattle producers can test for the disease, but UW is now offering a program where students will do the testing for them. Rosasco is helping oversee the program, as well. She said they are taking in 60 bulls from across the region and will monitor and test them for brisket disease and their ability to live at high elevations. The bulls that prove to be healthy will then be sold to regional producers.

“So selecting bulls that have a low risk for brisket disease, they're going to be able to pass those genetics on,” she said. “And hopefully, make sure that you don't end up with animals in your herd that are having any issues with it or dying from brisket disease.”

Rosasco said it is also a great way for students to get hands-on learning.

“We have graduate students and undergraduate students that are going to be enrolled in a class and help us manage the sale or manage the bulls while they're here, plan out the sale and help with all the marketing,” she said. “We're really excited to provide some more hands-on experience in animal management for the students here and hopefully get them some additional experience in the beef industry.”

They are taking consigned bulls through Dec. 2. The bulls will live in Laramie at more than 7,000 feet elevation. They will have 45 days to acclimate, and then they will be tested and observed for about two months. The private treaty sale will be held in the spring.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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