In a barn outside Manhattan, Kan., researchers from Kansas State University are trying to solve the riddle of bovine respiratory disease. They're sticking plastic rods down the noses of six-month old calves, collecting samples of bacteria.
"This bacteria, Mannheimia haemolytica, lives in most cattle," explains Mike Apley, one of the research leaders. Sometimes, for reasons that aren't well understood, those bacteria make cattle sick. When that happens, or when it just seems likely to happen, cattlemen deploy antibiotics.
Apley hopes to find out, among other things, whether those antibiotics actually work as advertised. If they don't, he says, it's an easy decision to not use them. Farmers save money and meat industry critics, who want farmers to use fewer antibiotics, are happy, too. "It's a win-win for everyone."
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