On February 9th, UC Davis Hydrology Professor Dr. Gregory Pasternack brought 13 lucky students from his Field Methods in Hydrology class to explore one of the watersheds here at Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center. In his 21st and likely final year teaching this course, Dr. Pasternack was kind enough to share some reflections with us below:
“I always run this class trip in February and usually the view of Deer Creek across the canyon is stunning. In the final section before it convenes with the Yuba River, Deer Creek plunges an amazing 400 feet vertical per mile. With a flow of a couple hundred cfs that we typically see in February, it's just a stunning view. I once tried to hike down into that section from Mooney Flat Road, but the bedrock is very smooth and the waterfalls too extreme, even when dry. It's a postcard-worthy view for sure.
The Schubert catchment is small yet still quite adventurous to university students. Some students come from urban regions with little outdoor experience, while others are avid outdoor adventurers yet have little practical experience with doing science in nature. The goal of experiential learning is to put students into new situations with one-on-one experiences with nature where they have to use their knowledge and experience to problem solve. Not only are students learning science, but they are learning how to work together in a team, and even how to dress effectively to do safe outdoor research. People might be surprised to hear that part of the course involves teaching about clothing, but the technology of textiles for outdoor work has improved so much and students have little exposure to thinking about safety from a clothing perspective.
Lectures are the most efficient way to inject the most amount of information into the human brain in the shortest amount of time. Unfortunately, people tend to not retain most of that information unless they perceive a critical need to know something at a given moment in time. With quick access to the internet, people are becoming less knowledgeable and more dependent on search. What a field trip like this does is provide motivation to learn and retain lecture knowledge, because it will be required to be safe and effective during the field trip as well as to complete the associated homework assignment. Down in the Schubert watershed, cell phones don't work, so you have to really know what you're doing and not rely on technology to tell you what to do.”
- Author: Maddison Easley
Small black dots can be seen from afar amidst the Lower Ranch fields at the Sierra Foothill Research & Extension Center. Upon closer inspection, those spots morph into fuzzy, knob-kneed, curious little calves that are sure to insight many cries of “Awwwwe!” from visitors.
However, to a seasoned rancher those cute calves are a testament to the worthwhile blood, sweat, and tears that were shed leading up to a successful delivery. A healthy calf is the ultimate goal of any cow-calf manager, but once those critters finally do take their first breaths, the work has just begun…again.
In the Sierra Foothills, healthy calves signify a greater achievement - the triumph over a bacterial disease called epizootic bovine abortion (EBA). Extensive research has been conducted on this economically devastating problem, with annual losses in the range of 45,000 to 90,000 calves in the state of California alone.
EBA is commonly termed “foothill abortion” due to the regional outbreaks affecting only foothill, semi-arid and mountainous ranges of California, parts of Nevada, and southern Oregon. Through studies and research efforts by scientists associated with UC Davis, known information and management strategies have made slow, yet very significant progress since the recognition of EBA in the 1960's. For example, the culprit of EBA has been identified as the soft-shelled tick Ornithodoros coriaceus – explaining the climatic limitations of the disease so far.
Faculty and site conditions at SFREC have provided the ideal atmosphere for useful data collection. Staff Research Associate Nikolai Schweitzer is charged with the task of checking the irrigated fields daily for signs of aborted fetuses.
“It's important to be highly aware and check the fields at least twice a day. The scavengers in this area move in quickly!” said Schweitzer.
All aborted fetuses are transported to UC Davis for additional lab tests to accurately determine if EBA was the cause of death. Infected cows do not show signs of the disease during pregnancy because the bacteria is transmitted to the immature fetus where it proliferates and results in a late-term abortion.
Fortunately, the outlook for the candidate vaccine is very promising. The release of an effective EBA vaccine in the future will save ranchers countless hours of disappointment and headaches, while beefing up their worn wallets! This will be another significant feat for the cattle industry, SFREC, UCANR, and animal scientists in the West.
- Author: Maddison Easley
The assessments are confidential and will be used to generate training materials that producers can then utilize to improve the health and welfare of their herds. The leaders and key individuals involved with this project include Cassandra Tucker of the UCD Department of Animal Science, Bruce Hoar – the Western Institute for Food Safety and Security, and UCD graduate student Gabrielle Simon.
Here are a few useful links to additional information and resources about beef health and welfare:
- Author: Jeremy James
Summer is a prime time for pinkeye on California rangeland. SFREC is not excluded from this problem so we screen for pinkeye frequently, particularly during animal handling efforts.
Pinkeye is often observed as an oozing, discolored, bulging eyeball. Pinkeye, known in the science community as infectious bovine keratoconjunctivitis (IBK), is a bacterial disease which has varying degrees of severity. This troublesome inflammation can ultimately lead to blindness in severe cases.
Last week, 103 heifers were examined for pinkeye at SFREC. Most of the cattle had no visible symptoms of eye troubles, but a portion had some degree of pinkeye present – healing, active, or scarring.
From a manager's viewpoint, this is a very costly disease. Pinkeye is known to inhibit calves from thriving due to ocular pain and poor vision. The cost of treating pinkeye with antibiotics adds up quickly, not to mention the extra time and effort that is spent administering treatment. Additionally, the marketability of affected animals can be hindered. Here is a link to general information on the disease:
Pinkeye is a complicated disease and SFREC has provided key research support in this arena for the last several decades. Pinkeye is caused by Moraxella bovis, a bacterium that is typically transmitted from infected animals by flies. Multiple factors may contribute to the development of the disease, but eye irritation to some degree is necessary for infection. Cattle plagued with IBK develop painful corneal ulcers that oftentimes leave scarring in the eye. When the cornea ruptures, blindness will occur. This link offers additional information published in 1990 from research conducted at SFREC:
The challenge of controlling pinkeye continues to be a prominent focus of scientists and industry professionals. Recent studies at SFREC, led by Associate Professor John Angelos at the University of California Davis School for Veterinary Medicine, have increased knowledge of the molecular composition of M. bovis cytotoxin, and even indicate promise for a recombinant subunit vaccine. Agrilabs, a company that works to connect research, manufacturers, and consumers, published an article featuring Angelos and worthwhile information about IBK:
A successful management strategy for pinkeye in cattle involves an integrated approach that should include mineral supplements and quality nutrition to help maintain a strong immune system, reduction of environmental irritants (i.e. those annoying little creatures called flies and tall grasses), and a well-planned medication strategy. Isolation of infected animals is always a wise measure to take. Be sure to contact your practicing veterinarian for specific questions and recommendations.