The nation's highest altitude beef cattle research facility managed by New Mexico State University at the Valles Caldera National Preserve in northern New Mexico is determining if DNA markers exist that will identify if cattle are genetically predisposed to develop hypertension while at high elevations.

Cattle, like humans, can be genetically predisposed for hypertension at higher altitudes, known as bovine high altitude disease (HAD) or brisket disease, when they graze above 7,000-feet elevation for extended periods. The inability to process oxygen efficiently is a key health issue that hampers beef cattle operations in the Rocky Mountain region.

"Grazing cattle at high elevations comes with inherent risk due to their susceptibility of developing hypertension," said Manny Encinias, a beef cattle specialist with NMSU's Cooperative Extension Service and director of operations for the high altitude research facility.

Most cattle producers don't know if individual cattle will have problems grazing at high elevations until the animal shows clinical symptoms. Unfortunately, in most situations, the discovery and disease confirmation is only after the death of the animal. Death and performance losses associated with HAD annually add up to more than $60 million for the beef cattle industry in the Rocky Mountain region.


Develop tools

"Our long-term goal at this facility is to develop indicators and tools beef producers can use to select cattle that will thrive at high elevations," said Encinias, "We believe high altitude disease is a condition impacted by multiple factors and teaming up with multidiscipline experts, universities and progressive beef cattle producers is a key to making rapid progress on managing this disease."

NMSU's College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences is coordinating the facility 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 HAD Tim Holt, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Colorado State University's School of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Science, has been actively involved at the facility since 2009 by performing pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) tests on cattle to evaluate individual adaptation to the high altitude. The PAP test is presently the beef industry's diagnostic tool of choice, as it detects early signs of hypertension through an animal's blood pressure.