UNL researchers look to producer help in calf dwarfism study


University of Nebraska-Lincoln researchers are trying to uncover the cause of a novel form of severe, lethal dwarfism in calves and are asking for producer help.

Dr. David Steffen (Veterinary Diagnostic Center) and Dr. Jessica Petersen (Department of Animal Science) are using veterinary and genomic tools to try to understand the cause of the abnormal, unwanted traits in beef cattle. The research, including a careful description of affected calves and collection of genetic samples, is important in the case that these conditions are heritable.

Beginning in 2016, several calves (Black Angus and Angus cross) born with this phenotype were submitted to the Veterinary Diagnostic Center. Genotyping of the calves showed they did not have any genetic mutations that have previously been documented to cause dwarfism. However, the pedigrees of the affected calves suggest this is an inherited, recessive condition. The research team is currently working to identify any new genetic variant(s) causing this condition which could allow for the identification of carriers of this undesirable trait.

However the researchers say the success of this research is dependent upon help from producers. They are asking producers to report any calf born with an unusual, unwanted phenotype such as dwarfism. All information and samples submitted will contribute to building an understanding of these conditions and the potential identification of means to prevent or manage their occurrence

The researchers note that cases of genetically abnormal calves are rare and occur across breeds; further, in many instances the cause of abnormalities is not attributed to genetics. This particular dwarfism trait has been recently reported on three ranches, with a total of six calves affected. Calves with similar deformities have previously been reported in several breeds. While it is important to understand the cause of this defect, the dwarfism disorder currently being investigated is not thought to be common nor pose a concern to the industry.

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