COLLEGE STATION - The initial phase of a new animal disease study has begun, but more producer participation is needed, said a researcher from the National Center for Foreign Animal and Zoonotic Disease Defense at Texas A&M University.

The study, sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security, will focus on the control and prevention of foreign and emerging diseases in cloven-hoofed animals, such as beef cattle, swine, sheep, goats and deer.

"Beginning mid-September, we mailed more than 500 surveys to producers and operators in a nine-county area of Central Texas, requesting information vital to our research," said Dr. Bo Norby, primary investigator for the study. "So far, only a little more than 90 of the surveys have been filled out and returned."

Researchers are asking those who received the survey to fill it out and return it by mid-November so the study can proceed on schedule. Surveys have been sent to producers in Uvalde, Medina, Bandera, Real, Edwards, Kinney, Maverick, Zavala and Frio counties. Participants are asked to provide operational information such as acreage, number of animals, property characteristics and number of employees.

"It's very important that we get as many responses as possible from these producers," said Norby. "They are closest to the situation and can provide the most valuable data from which to learn about how animal diseases may be transmitted."

Animal disease outbreaks, such as the 2001 outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in the United Kingdom, are cause for concern from both a social and economic standpoint, he said.

"The foot-and-mouth outbreak cost the agriculture industry in the U.K. more than $5 billion," he said. "And while very different, BSE, more commonly called 'mad cow disease' and the recent concern with avian flu also demonstrate the importance of getting the best possible data for analyzing and preventing the spread of animal diseases."

A follow-up survey has been sent to producers who responded, Norby said.

"This second survey asks for additional information related to where their livestock came from and the livestock travel distance to and from their ranches," he said. "It will only take five to 10 minutes to fill in."

The study will help us determine the frequency of animal contact, the density and distribution of animal populations, seasonal changes in livestock management and other possible factors in disease transmission, Norby added.

"That way we can produce better disease models and more effective methods of prevention and control," he said. For more information, producers in the study area can call a local Extension agent, Dr. Brandon Dominguez at (979) 845-4194, or Norby at (979) 845-3135.