The road to insight can lead through a feed yard, according to MSU News Service. Researchers at Montana State University are studying the relationship between a strong immune system in calves and safer meat in the grocery store. The approach is a new one in the fight against E. coli.
ecoli research
As he explained his research recently, Kim Skinner walked through the livestock yards at MSU’s farm in Bozeman and warned against stepping in the substance that might politely be called cattle scat. He walked past a few cows that have had a permanent opening in their sides for about 10 years. Researchers use the cows to examine the contents of their rumen, the largest compartment in their stomachs. The hole is usually plugged and doesn’t bother the animals. But the rumen produces a powerful odor, even to someone like Skinner, a master’s degree student in ruminant nutrition.
Fortunately for Skinner, he’s using 24 intact heifers for his two-month study into the connection between nutrition and E. coli. Newly weaned, the calves came from MSU’s Red Bluff Research Ranch west of Bozeman.
The goal is to find a way to protect people from E. coli 0157:H7 that can contaminate meat and cause consumers to become sick.
Most E. coli is shed through animal feces. Focusing on early nutrition is a different approach from traditional efforts that concentrate on sanitation in packing plants to reduce the rate of E. coli shedding, said John Paterson, Skinner’s advisor and the MSU Extension Beef Specialist. Experts usually address post-harvest conditions rather than pre-harvest.
The animal science major is studying carcass trends over the past five years for cattle in the Montana Beef Network. After graduating in the fall of 2005, Skinner may apply his knowledge in the beef industry and maybe on the family ranch. His twin brother, Tim, has been working there since graduating from MSU in the spring of 2003.