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NMSU to host field day at Top of Valle research facility at Valles Caldera

VALLES CALDERA NATIONAL PRESERVE, N.M. - The inaugural field day at New Mexico State University's Top of the Valle research facility at the Valles Caldera National Preserve will give cattle producers an opportunity to learn more about bovine high altitude disease and the research being done to reduce the risk of cattle dying from hypertension while grazing in the mountains of the western United States.

Here, cattle are being driven at NMSU's Top of the Valle research facility at the Valles Caldera National Preserve. NMSU will host a field day at the facility beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 24. The research being done on bovine high altitude disease will be discussed, including a demonstration of the pulmonary arterial pressure test that is conducted on the cattle during the research. (NMSU Photo by Jane Moorman)

The field day will begin at 10 a.m., Sept. 24, at the historic 89,000-acre Baca Ranch, now owned by the United States government. Demonstrations and presentations on the research will be given, and cattlemen will be able to view the bulls and cows that have participated in the research.

"Each year we add another dimension of research as we work to quantify practices that help cattle survive and thrive while grazing at altitudes above 7,000-feet," said Manny Encinias, NMSU Extension beef cattle specialist and director of operations for the research facility. "We have always suspected that genetics is a major driver of how an animal performs at high altitude. We're trying to understand how significant genetics actually is and what other underlying factors make cattle susceptible to developing hypertension at higher elevation."

It is estimated that the beef industry loses $60 million annually because of the impact of high altitude disease.

The three areas being studied are defining genetic markers across multiple breeds for bovine high altitude disease, commonly called brisket disease; the impact of nutritional management prior to cattle being shipped to seasonal high altitude grazing; and the impact of pulmonary hypertension on reproduction efficiency.

NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is coordinating the study that involves researchers from three universities - NMSU, Colorado State University and the University of Illinois - and cattle breeders from several states.

National expert on bovine high mountain disease Tim Holt, veterinarian and assistant professor at Colorado State University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, is participating in the Top of the Valle project by performing the pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) test on the bulls to evaluate their individual adaptation to the high altitude after 60 days grazing at the Valles Caldera. The PAP test detects early signs of hypertension through the animal's blood pressure.

Genetics researcher Jonathan Beever, associate professor at the University of Illinois Department of Animal Science, is analyzing DNA samples gathered from the registered cattle at the Top of Valles facility to define the genetic markers associated with high altitude disease (HAD).

Holt, while conducting PAP tests in the field since the early 1980s, has observed numerous trends associated with higher rates of HAD. Encinias and the staff at NMSU's Clayton Livestock Research Center have initiated a study to quantify one of Holt's field observations.

This year, they are studying the impact of commonly used feed additives in mineral supplements for growing beef cattle prior to shipment to high altitude grazing.
"In the field, Holt has observed negative associative effects of commonly used feed additives," Encinias said. "So we are watching growth and reproductive performance, as well as pulmonary arterial pressure, of cattle supplemented with these feeds additives."

During the field day, Encinias will present an overview of the goals and objectives of the Top of the Valles program. Holt will conduct a demonstration of the PAP test and address the need for the research.

Other presentations on the field day agenda include:

"Developing Genetic Tools to Manage High Altitude Disease" by Jonathan Beever of University of Illinois

"Trichomoniasis in New Mexico Beef Cattle Herds" by John Wenzel, NMSU Extension veterinarian

"New Mexico Youth Ranch Management Camp" by Dina Reitzel of New Mexico Beef Council

"Fire ecology in the Southwest" by Doug Cram, NMSU Range Improvement Task Force

"Las Conchas Fire: Burn Dynamics on the Valles Caldera" by Tim Haarmann, Valles Caldera National Preserve ranch manager

"Post Fire: Recovery of Natural Resources" by Nick Ashcroft, NMSU Range Improvement Task Force

"Effects of Fire on Grazing and Browsing Patterns of Cattle and Wildlife" by Sam Smallidge, NMSU Range Improvement Task Force

"Members of the New Mexico Beef Cattle Performance Association will have a group of high altitude tested bulls and females on display, and a select set for sale," Encinias said.

Encinias added that the field day will give producers an opportunity to learn more about the work that the New Mexico Beef Cattle Performance Association and NMSU are doing to improve the region's beef industry.