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Copyright © 2015
Angus Journal

Understanding High-Mountain Disease

FORT COLLINS, COLO. (Dec. 3, 2008) — Tim Holt, Colorado State University assistant professor of veterinary medicine and biomedical science, gave attendees of the 2008 Robert E. Taylor Memorial Symposium: Applied Reproductive Strategies in Beef Cattle an overview of bovine high-mountain disease, also known as “brisket disease.” Throughout his presentation he emphasized the need for development of an expected progeny difference (EPD) or genetic test to better help predict heritability of the disease.

CSU's Tim Holt, who has been studying brisket disease for more than two decades, said it typically occurs above elevations of 5,000 feet, but he has seen it occur in cattle at 2,800 feet.

Brisket disease is the accumulation of fluid in an animal’s brisket area as a result of congestive heart failure. The condition is caused by hypertension in response to low oxygen levels at higher elevations, making cattle that originated at lower elevations and wer moved to higher elevations highly susceptible to the disease.

Holt, who has been studying the disease for more than two decades, said typically high-mountain disease occurs at elevations above 5,000 feet, but he has seen it occur in cattle at 2,800 feet.

Holt explained, “When a bull comes from the coast and walks into high elevation, he gets hypoxia. Hypoxia happens because his oxygen is decreasing. As the symptoms progress, this eventually leads to congestive heart failure.”

How fast can the disease take effect on cattle? Holt said it most often takes three to six weeks for brisket disease to take form, although it’s been witnessed as quickly as 48 hours. Jugular distention in the animal’s neck is one of the first signs.

As a result of its rapid onset, brisket disease is extremely costly for ranchers in mountainous regions. Presently, the primary treatment for the disease is simply moving cattle to lower elevations. The pulmonary arterial pressure (PAP) test has been used for many years by Holt and his colleagues to test cattle for the disease. It can help determine which animals are most at risk for brisket disease and detect early signs of the disease.

Because this disease is heritable, Holt said he would like to see the beef cattle industry develop an EPD to help predict susceptibility to brisket disease. He pointed out that most artificial insemination (AI) sires are from low-elevation areas, and it would be beneficial to have a database in the form of an EPD to help better manage against the disease.

“We want more accuracy; we need better answers,” he emphasized.

Holt concluded by adding that with an EPD, producers could minimize some of the economic impact brisket disease has on herds. It would also enhance breeding selection and aid in culling decisions.

To listen to Holt’s presentation, view the accompanying PowerPoint or view other presentations from the symposium, visit the newsroom at

The Robert E. Taylor Memorial Symposium is conducted by Colorado State University every other year to provide current, research-based information for improving profitability in the beef cattle industry. The ARSBC program was developed by the Beef Cattle Reproduction Task Force to improve understanding and application of reproductive technologies, including AI, estrus synchronization and factors affecting male fertility. In 2008, CSU and the Task Force collaborated to provide the Dec. 2-3 symposium in Fort Collins.

— by Tosha Powell & Kindra Gordon

Click here for accompanying PowerPoint as a pdf file (7.5 MB).
Click here for audio of the presentation (4 MB mp3).

Editor’s Note: This article is available as a news release to redistribute per an agreement between the symposium hosts and Angus Productions Inc. Click here to submit a request for a high-resolution photo of the speaker. For additional information visit the newsroom of