Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Scrapie Resistance in Sheep

I was assigned a genetics assignment that allowed me to pick  a topic realted to livestock genetics. I could go anywhere with this, some of my classmates choose teacup pigs, minaure Herefords, and sexed semen. I decided to go with something that our Sheep Student Managed Farm team had to test for this year, Scrapie Resistance in sheep.

Scrapie is a nervous system disease that affects sheep. It is one of several transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs), which are related to bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) in cattle and chronic wasting disease of deer. Like other spongiform encephalopathies, scrapie is caused by a prion. Scrapie has been known since the 18th century and does not appear to be transmissible to humans.

Clinical Signs

The name scrapie is derived from one of the clinical signs of the condition, where an affected animal will compulsively scrape off their fleece against rocks, trees or fences. The disease apparently causes an itching sensation in the animals. Other clinical signs include excessive lip-smacking, altered gaits, and convulsive collapse.

This sheep has Scrapies

Testing for scrapies resistance in sheep is done through DNA testing the blood of the sheep. The cost of testing is approximately $40 per animal, and is done in Saskatchewan and Ontario. 

Why Test?
Our biggest international trade partners in the sheep industry, United States and Britain, are trying to eradicate scrapie from their flocks. In order to do so, they must ensure anything they buy has the resistant genotype.   However, you must get the DNA tested at a certified testing facility. To find one in Canada, visit the Scrapie Canada website.
Many people believe that if your sheep have the resistant genotype, they can and do not have the disease. This is false, they only way you can truly test to see if the sheep has the disease is to test their brain tissue. This test is simply to see if it is genetically resistant to the disease.

The plan aims to reduce and eventually erase small ruminant-TSEs (transmissible spongiform encephalopathies) from the national sheep flock by selecting on PrP genotypes. However, a focus on scrapie genotype alone is risky due to the chance that it leads to losses in genetic variablility.

 The SFCP [Scrapies Farm certification Program] National Standards were developed by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), in collaboration with the sheep industry, as the basis for Canada’s on-farm, voluntary scrapie control program. Its goal is to be an internationally recognized flock/herd scrapie control program for the sheep and goat industries. This program is unique as a CFIA approved disease control strategy. The CFIA's involvement is merely to guide the program to maintain international stnadards.

Scrapie may go undectected in a flock for serval years. . As well, with no reliable live animal test for detecting the disease in individual animals. Working with these restrictions, the SFCP is designed to gradually assess whether flocks are currently infected and to minimize the risk of contracting scrapie in the future. Flocks advance through the various levels of the program as the risk of scrapie infection decreases. Producers have the option of following one of three pathways under the program. In Pathway 1, the assessment of risk (level the flock has achieved on the program) is determined by the number of years that the producer has followed program requirements and scrapie has not been detected. In this pathway, flocks/herds advance one level for every year that the requirements are met. In Pathways 2&3, other technologies, such as genotyping for resistance to scrapie, are used in combination with disease surveillance to reach certification in a fewer number of years.

Requirements include:
  • Surveillance for the disease is made by submitting brain samples from all adult sheep and goats that die on-farm. If no animals die on farm during a 12-month period, a sample from at least one cull animal over 24 months must be submitted.
  • Producers must work with a veterinarian accredited with CFIA to deliver the SFCP.
  • Producers must make an annual, vet supervised inventory their flocks/herds and maintain documentation throughout the year on animals entering and leaving the premises.
  • The flock/herd must be closed to additions of female animals, except from flocks/herds on the same or higher program level. The source of rams, bucks and/or semen is not as restricted, although some conditions do apply in Pathways 2 & 3.

PrP is the genotype a breeder is looking for when try to eradicate scrapie from their herd. If you animals DNA test comes back with this geneotype, it means it is scrapie resistant. This DOES NOT mean that your animal is scrapie free, simply that they are resistant to this nervous system disease.

In conclustion, why not test for this disease in your breeding stock? It may cost a little bit of money to do so, but it will save you in the long run. If you ram has the genotype of non-resistance, it could pass this on to all of his offspring, forcing you to cull these animals. As well, it will help you to broden your market, and be able to sell international sheep meat.



Sunday, 20 November 2011

COOL Final Descision

Some of you may remember my previous blog post about the COOL [Country of Origin Labeling]. In that post i referred to a final decision being made in the fall, well they finally made the decision.

The WTO [World Trade Organization] has ruled the United States' laws requiring mandatory country-of-origin labels on beef, pork and produce violate its commitments to global trade rules.

Canadian producers have been worried that the system of requiring all meat and perishable items be labeled form the country they originated from would become a trade stopper. Both Canada and Mexico have long contended that COOL violates international trade laws, restricts market access and is a technical trade barrier. Canada in late 2008 formally challenged COOL at the WTO.

The Canadian Cattlemen's Association noted in a release that Washington, in theory, could also just ignore the DSB panel's decision. Doing so, however, could eventually put Canada in a position to apply "retaliatory options," such as new or higher tariffs on imports from the U.S.

"This decision recognizes the integrated nature of the North American supply chain in this vitally important industry," Canada's International Trade Minister Ed Fast noted. "Removing onerous labeling measures and unfair, unnecessary costs will improve competitiveness, boost growth and help strengthen the prosperity of Canadian and American producers alike." 

This legislation is being a labelled a win for Canadian producers.

Saturday, 19 November 2011

GMO. Huh?

Some of you maybe asking: what is GMO, and what does it stand for? It is an acronym for Genetically Modified. There are a merit of different things that are genetically modified, from seed, to food to sheep.

Many people are very afraid of the word GMO for some reason, and I am not sure why. Just because it is genetically  modified does not mean it is automatically harmful. As well, may people are against it, and do not really understand why it can be beneficial. I am going to help those of you who are on the fence, become a little more clear in the advantages to genetically modified farming. 

Great example of how people are mis-informed.

1)Environmentally friendly! There is a lesser need for chemicals, as the seeds can be genetically altered to be resistant to pests; therefore, no more need for pesticides. 

2) It could make healthier food! Certain foods can be modified to contain more Vitamins and minerals that are important to the human diet. 

3) SOLVE WORLD HUNGER! Okay, that might not acutally be as true as it sounds, but i thought it would catch your eye. There is that little black cloud that reminds us that with the increasing world population, one day there will not be enough food to feed the world.  As genetically modified foods increase the yields of crops, more food is produced by farmers.

4) We can expand what foods can grow where, also helping reason # 3. We could genetically modify saskatoon berries to tolerate frosts, or for canola to require less moisture.

I am sure you could find ALOT of literature about the disadvantages of GMO food, but I wanted to give you a bit of insight as to why it could be beneficial to embrace the ever changing genetic technology world.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Rewards for Good Animal Handling

As I was reading this weeks Alberta Farmer Express newpaper, I came across an interesting article, titled "Second annual Feedlot Challenge awards buckles for good handling".

I was pleased to read this article. Many people believe that animals are not handled properly and that the agriculture industry is not doing enough about this problem. This is a great example of how they are rewarding producers for good handling.

The buckles were sponsored by Pfizer and included eight teams, including one from Ontario! The scoring of this competition was spilt into three categories; pen checking, chute processing and a written component. The main weighing of scores being on how low stress the teams handled their animals.

The competition was held near Picture Butte, AB at the Shooten and Sons Farms. One aspect of the competition had the handlers separate calves into groups to be treated. For a further challenge, they marked specific animals to cut out of the herd that needed further treatment.

The winners posing with their buckles.
(L-R) Shane Broeders, Travis Klassen, Sandy Debruin and Trevor Burks.


The winners were Acme Highway 21 Feeders Inc who won belt buckles for their low stress cattle handling.

I think this is a prime example of what the Agriculture industry is doing to promote low stress handling to their producers. It also demonstrates how far this competition is spreading, that a team from Ontario made the trek down to Alberta to compete.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

NashVegas Pt 2

Sorry I have not tending to my blog in a longggggg time- everything with school and extra-cirricular stuff is just hectic!

I have not forgotten about you! I just needed some breathing time!

So here is my second part to my Nashville adventures!

The theme of the conference with my fellow AgNerds was an interesting one. Beyond the Choir- we are trying to educate the people who have never been on a farm to learn about agriculture!

We were asked to think of our A-Ha! moment- the time that we realized that we wanted to become Agvocates. Some of you may have already read my A-Ha! moment in a previous post that I did. 

We had so many differnet and amazing speakers fit into the two day conference, it was so much to take in- but well  wortht it!

Jennifer Dahm came and spoke to us regarding what consumer research has told us about agriculture. Consumers individually think farmers are great, research shows they have concerns how we do our business, how we raise the food. Which really got us thinking about how we need to market ourselves. 

We then had a pannel of Mommy bloggers come in and share with us what they feel consumers are fearing in the processing of their food.  Rachel came and spoke to us regarding feeding a family with food allergies. Shanna gave us a great opinion from a mothers perspective, and was joined by Lindsay.

We also had alot of great speakers helping us on specific needs for our posts- like pictures and how to format links. As well as a few roundtable discussions about what we feel is an issue in our area and how we can all call on each other to help when we have someone fighting the ag community.

The AgChat Foundation put on an excellent conference on how to effectively use social media for agricultural advocacy- or Agvocacy.

If you have a chance to attend- I would highly recommend it, as you learn alot of invaluable skills.