Farmers called on to report funny-looking calves to the ICBF

The Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF) is asking farmers to report calves born with genetic defects in order to identify the cause of the mutations.

This is the third year that the ICBF will provide farmers with the option to record any genetic defects online. 

Despite uptake being quite low, the organisation believes the project will help identify causative mutations for some of the defects seen around Ireland.

For example, in 2015 there was 12 reported cases of calves born without tails, but in 2016 this fell to below half that number, figures show.

Most of these calves were fine other than missing their tails, but the ICBF is now working on trying to find out what makes these animals genetically different and what causes the tails to be missing or short.

The organisation hopes to be able to report next year exactly where in the genome the SNP (Single nucleotide polymorphism) that causes tailless-ness lies.

The specific defects the ICBF is looking for in 2017 include:
  • Atresia (ani, coli, and jujeni) – also known as “Blockage” and “No back passage”.
  • Cleft nostril.
  • Cleft palate.
  • Dwarfism.
  • Photosensitization.
  • Progressive Ataxia.
  • Schistosoma reflux.
  • Ventricular septal defect.
  • Wry neck.

Both farmers and vets are encouraged to carry out the online survey if they deliver a calf with a defect, regardless if it is on the list above or not.

A calf born with a cleft lip and nostril Source: ICBF
A calf born with a cleft lip and nostril Source: ICBF

Without these reports the ICBF would not be able to identify when new genetic defects are beginning to show up in the Irish cattle population.

French researchers recently found the mutation responsible for Progressive Ataxia, a defect which causes the loss of the ability to coordinate muscular movement, according to the Irish organisation.

Now the ICBF is in the process of testing samples which were sent in by farmers to ensure the same SNP that causes Progressive Ataxia in French cattle is the same one found in cattle here in Ireland.

The organisation is also sending samples from animals with Atresia (waterbelly) for examination by Dr. John Mee and Dr. Orla Keene of Teagasc.

It is hoped that a solution to this problem will be found in the near future so that farmers can breed animals without worry of having a calf with this affliction.