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New Congenital Defect Reported in Holsteins

00:00AM Oct 27, 2008
            The Holstein Association and the National Association of Animal Breeders urgently need assistance from dairy producers, AI companies and veterinarians in identifying calves that appear to be affected by Brachyspina Syndrome.  Brachyspina syndrome is a new, lethal congenital defect causing vertebral malformation, growth retardation and internal organ deformities has been reported by Danish and Dutch researchers.
            Please contact the Holstein Association or the Veterinary Diagnostics Center, Dr. David Steffen, PhD, University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL), telephone 402-472-1434, before destroying the calf.  For genetic  research purposes, the entire calf, along with a blood sample from the dam of the affected calf, should be sent to the UNL Veterinary Diagnostic Center.
            Calves affected with Brachyspina Syndrome differ from Complex Vertebral Malformation (CVM) as follows:
  • Mean body weight is smaller 23 lbs (10.3 kg) compared to 55 lbs (25 kg) for CVM affected calves.
  • Vertebral lesions/malformations are more widespread and severe resulting in an overall reduction in spine length.
  • Renal dysplasia is present in Brachyspina Syndrome but not in CVM cases.
  • There may be a slightly longer gestation period with Brachyspina Syndrome.
  • Different common ancestor.
            An August press release from CRV (Dutch Cooperative CR Delta and Flemish Cooperative VRV) reports: "Brachyspina, is a single recessive genetic defect in cattle that causes abortion in 0.16% of the pregnancies within the population (sixteen in 10,000).  In rare cases, gestation length is normal, but the calf is stillborn.  Postmortem examinations on these calves revealed physical defects like a shortened spinal cord, long legs and abnormal organs.”
            CRV reports that a genetic marker test has been developed by CRV and the University of Liege to test animals for Brachyspina and that this genetic marker test will be available soon for breed associations and dairy producers.  
            The current genetic test relies on looking for a genetic marker that is closely linked to the causative gene.  This linkage test has an accuracy of 95%, meaning that 5% of the time a false result will be reported.  Research is currently being conducted to find the specific causative gene or another marker that is more closely linked to it.
            At this time, the Holstein Association has not taken a position of accepting and recording test results.  Obtaining additional information relating to this genetic defect and the testing for carriers is a high priority for NAAB and the Holstein Association.  The industry will recommend a specific course of action as soon as appropriate information is available.
            For more information contact: Holstein Association USA, Inc.,  iE-mail:  or National Association of Animal Breeders, E-Mail: