Monday, November 23, 2015

China genetically customizing goats, other animals

China’s western Shaanxi Province is known for rugged windswept terrain and its coal and wool, but not necessarily its science. Yet at the Shaanxi Provincial Engineering and Technology Research Center for Shaanbei Cashmere Goats, scientists have just created a new kind of goat, with bigger muscles and longer hair than normal. The goats were made not by breeding but by directly manipulating animal DNA—a sign of how rapidly China has embraced a global gene-changing revolution.

Geneticist Lei Qu wants to increase goatherd incomes by boosting how much meat and wool each animal produces. For years research projects at his lab in Yulin, a former garrison town along the Great Wall, stumbled along, Qu’s colleagues say. “The results were not so obvious, although we had worked so many years,” his research assistant, Haijing Zhu, wrote in an e-mail.

That changed when the researchers adopted the new gene-customizing technology called CRISPR–Cas9, a technique developed in the U.S. about three years ago. CRISPR uses enzymes to precisely locate and snip out segments of DNA, much like a word-processor finding and deleting a given phrase — a process known as “gene-editing.” Although it is not the first tool scientists have used to tweak DNA, it is by far more precise and cheaper than past technologies. The apparent ease of this powerful method now raises both tantalizing possibilities and pressing ethical questions.

Once the goat team began to deploy CRISPR, their progress was rapid. In September Qu and 25 other collaborating scientists in China published the details of their research in Nature’s Scientific Reports. In early-stage goat embryos they had successfully deleted two genes that suppressed both hair and muscle growth. The result was 10 goat kids exhibiting both larger muscles and longer fur—designer livestock—that, so far, show no other abnormalities. “We believed gene-modified livestock will be commercialized after we demonstrate [that it] is safe,” predicts Qu, who envisions this work as a simple way to boost the sale of goat meat and cashmere sweaters from Shaanxi. [Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.]

The research is just one of a recent flurry of papers by Chinese scientists that describe CRISPR-modified goats, sheep, pigs, monkeys and dogs, among other mammals. In October, for instance, researchers from the country discussed their work to create unusually muscled beagles in the Journal of Molecular Cell Biology. Such research has been supported via grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China, Ministry of Agriculture, Ministry of Science and Technology as well as provincial governments. To read more, click here.


Thursday, November 12, 2015

Collaboration key to moving forward in antibiotic stewardship, experts say

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Human and animal health experts came together in Atlanta, GA this past week to discuss issues related to antibiotic resistance and to work toward increased antibiotic stewardship in both human medicine and animal health. Throughout the dialogue, attention was focused on specific areas which can be measured in order to verify the progress made in reducing antimicrobial resistance.

Convened by the National Institute for Animal Agriculture (NIAA) and supported by several industry stakeholders, commodity groups, and public health entities, the national symposium brought together a broad cross-section of professionals to share relevant science and develop consensus on those key areas in which the most progress may be made.

“Antibiotics have been critical in human and veterinary medicine since the 1940’s and antibiotic resistance has been a challenge almost as long,” said Dr. Robert Tauxe, Deputy Director of the Division of Foodborne, Waterborne and Environmental Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Thus, with the ever changing antibiotic landscape, research, education and constantly improving stewardship is imperative.”

“Stewardship is a cycle, it is not something we do and then forget,” said Dr. Mike Apley, Professor of Production Medicine and Clinical Pharmacology at Kansas State University. “Stewardship is a commitment to a cycle.” 

With increased antibiotic stewardship comes a greater need for more detailed record keeping and data management. “Emphasis on treatment records will be relied upon like they never have been before,” Apley said. “Increased federal regulations and requirements on veterinary feed directives and veterinary-client-patient-relationships, producers and veterinarians will have to keep treatment records like they do their finances.” 

Key stakeholders in the battle against antimicrobial resistance within the livestock and human health communities worked on developing pathways to accomplish this goal. Under the direction of Tom Chapel, Chief Evaluation Officer for the CDC, attendees worked in groups to develop a roadmap to decrease antibiotic resistance while continuing to provide a safe and adequate food supply.

All sides of the table were represented in these discussions, including the retail community. Representatives from Costco, Tyson Foods and Yum Brands shed light on what the consumers are demanding and what they are doing in order to answer those demands.

“For consumers this is not a scientific discussion, it is an emotional one,” said Donnie Smith, Chief Evaluation Officer of Tyson Foods. Parents want to know that they are doing the right thing for their children and that when their children need an antibiotic that it is going to be effective.

This requirement is also being asked of the human health community making it a no-brainer for veterinary and human health communities to work together. “Challenges are really too complex for any group to address alone,” said Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, Associate Director for Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Programs in the Division of Healthcare Quality Promotion at the CDC.

NIAA plans to continue this discussion with future events and the production of the symposium’s proceedings which will be available soon at Also a White Paper on the event will be available by the end of 2015.

The National Institute for Animal Agriculture provides a forum for building consensus and advancing proactive solutions for animal agriculture—the aquaculture, beef, dairy, equine, goats, poultry, sheep and swine industries—and provides continuing education and communication linkages for animal agriculture professionals. NIAA is dedicated to programs that work towards the eradication of disease that pose risk to the health of animals, wildlife and humans; promote a safe and wholesome food supply for our nation and abroad; and promote best practices in environmental stewardship, animal health and well-being. NIAA members represent all facets of animal agriculture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missouri Livestock Forage Use and Poisonous Plants Seminars Planned for West Plains Nov. 12 and Houston Dec. 10

Editor’s Note: These seminars are geared toward cattle production, but many aspect of forage management can apply to goat operations.

WEST PLAINS, Mo. — Two seminars have been scheduled to inform cattle producers on feeding low-quality forages and managing poisonous plants. Guest speakers from University of Missouri Extension will be Dr. Randy Wiedmeier, a livestock specialist, and Sarah Kenyon, an agronomy specialist.

The same program will be presented twice. The first session begins at 6 p.m., Nov. 12, at the Howell County Extension Center, 1376 Bill Virdon Blvd. (next to Hero's Coffee). Pre-registration and $5 per person are needed by Nov. 11 by calling (417) 256-2391.

The second session begins at 6 p.m. on Dec. 10, at the Texas County Extension Center, 114 W. Main St. Prepaid registration of $5 per person is requested and registration can be made by calling (417) 967-4545.

Dr. Wiedmeier will present “Low-Quality Forage Utilization by Livestock.”
“This year we have been blessed with an abundance of hay but, unfortunately, much of it is of fairly low quality. We can sustain our livestock on these low-quality forages but proper supplementation programs are imperative. Items to consider when making decisions regarding supplements for livestock being fed low-quality forages will be presented,” Wiedmeier said.

Kenyon will present information on controlling weeds in pastures. The information presented will focus on the seven deadliest plants to livestock. Other information on troublesome weeds will also be discussed. “Ample rain in 2015 provided for good growing conditions, unfortunately, those same conditions allowed some problematic weeds to flourish, Kenyon said.

University of Missouri Extension programs focus on the high-priority needs of Missourians to improve lives, communities, and economies by providing relevant, responsive and reliable educational solutions. MU Extension programs are open to all. More information on this topic is available online at

Monday, November 9, 2015

Proposed scrapie rule change would affect goats

Deadline for comments extended to Dec. 9

The American Sheep Industry Association  has confirmed that a 30-day extension has been approved for the filing of comments on the proposed changes to the scrapie regulation. Comments will be considered through Dec. 9.

The formal notice extending the comment period will be in the Federal Register this week.

The Federal Register notice proposing changes to scrapie regula­tions by USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service was posted in September. The ammendments would make the identification and record-keep­ing requirements for goat owners consistent with those for sheep owners but does not change the intrastate goat identification exemptions for consistent states.

A change to the definition of high-risk animals and adding a defini­tion for low-risk exposed animals is recommended to expand the use of genetic testing in classifying sheep and provide more flexibility when determining animal designations under the regulations. This change will also allow APHIS to relieve requirements for sheep and goats exposed to scrapie types, such as Nor98-like scrapie, that do not pose a significant risk of transmission.

The proposed changes also increase flexibility for how investigations can be conducted and require states to meet surveillance minimums based on the number of breeding sheep and goats in the state to remain Consistent States. Additional information on the proposed rule and the draft Program Standards is available at

ASI has long supported the eradication of scrapie from the United States and appreciates the work of APHIS, state animal health officials, markets, dealers, producers, equipment manufacturers and others who have made contributions to the progress that has been made towards eradication. In general, ASI believes the amendments proposed by APHIS have been carefully considered and are appropriate.

ASI's detailed comments are available at

Sheep and goat producers and other interested parties are encouraged to offer comments to this proposed rule and are welcome to use all or parts of ASI's draft comments in doing so.

Here is a link to the latest Scrapie: Eradicate It newsletter:

Thursday, November 5, 2015

USDA has new resources to help beginning farmers and ranchers

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recently announced a commitment by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to prioritize $5.6 billion over the next two years within USDA programs and services that serve new and beginning farmers and ranchers. Deputy Secretary Harden also announced a new, tailored web tool designed to connect burgeoning farm entrepreneurs with programs and resources available to help them get started. 
The new web tool is available at The site was designed based on feedback from new and beginning farmers and ranchers around the country, who cited unfamiliarity with programs and resources as a challenge to starting and expanding their operations. The site features advice and guidance on everything a new farm business owner needs to know, from writing a business plan, to obtaining a loan to grow their business, to filing taxes as a new small business owner. By answering a series of questions about their operation, farmers can use the site’s Discovery Tool to build a personalized set of recommendations of USDA programs and services that may meet their needs. 
Using the new web tool and other outreach activities, and operating within its existing resources, USDA has set a new goal of increasing beginning farmer and rancher participation by an additional 6.6 percent across key USDA programs, which were established or strengthened by the 2014 Farm Bill, for a total investment value of approximately $5.6 billion. Programs were targeted for expanded outreach and commitment based on their impact on expanding opportunity for new and beginning farmers and ranchers, including starting or expanding an operation, developing new markets, supporting more effective farming and conservation practices, and having access to relevant training and education opportunities. USDA will provide quarterly updates on its progress towards meeting its goal. A full explanation of the investment targets, benchmarks and outcomes is available at: BFR-Commitment-Factsheet.
As the average age of the American farmer now exceeds 58 years, and data shows that almost 10 percent of farmland in the continental United States will change hands in the next five years, we have no time to lose in getting more new farmers and ranchers established. Equally important is encouraging young people to pursue careers in industries that support American agriculture. According to an employment outlook report released by USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA) and Purdue University, one of the best fields for new college graduates is agriculture. Nearly 60,000 high-skilled agriculture job openings are expected annually in the United States for the next five years, yet only 35,000 graduates with a bachelor’s degree or higher in agriculture related fields are expected to be available to fill them. The report also shows that women make up more than half of the food, agriculture, renewable natural resources, and environment higher education graduates in the United States. USDA recently released a series of fact sheets showcasing the impact of women in agriculture nationwide. 
This announcement builds on USDA’s ongoing work to engage its resources to inspire a strong next generation of farmers and ranchers by improving access to land and capital; building market opportunities; extending conservation opportunities; offering appropriate risk management tools; and increasing outreach and technical support. To learn more about USDA’s efforts, visit the Beginning Farmers and Ranchers Results Page.