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Individual trade-offs between nutrition and risk of interspecific transmission of disease by grazing: cows, badger latrines and bovine tuberculosis

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1. We examine whether various measures of herbivore current physiological state (age, breeding and immune status) and genetic potential can be used as indicators of exposure to and risk from disease. We use dairy cattle and the risks of tuberculosis (TB) transmission posed to them by pasture contaminated with badger excreta (via the fecal-oral route) as a model system to address our aim.2. We monitored the contact behavior of approximately 150 dairy cattle at pasture contaminated with badger excreta (feces and urine), and correlated this with measures of current and genetic production.3. Cows producing milk with lower milk solids (percentage protein and fat) had greater contact with feces-contaminated swards. In contrast, genetic merit for milk protein and fat content and overall genetic merit were not correlated with contact at feces-contaminated swards. Individuals with higher somatic cell counts (SCC) had less contact with badger feces.4. In general, cattle behaved similarly at non-contaminated swards and those contaminated with badger urine, but differently at badger latrines (which contain both feces and urine).5. Current animal state is a better correlate than genetic potential of the contact behavior with environmental distributions of excreta (and thus disease risk). Individual physiological characteristics, regularly monitored, may have value in predicting behavior and thus exposure to and risks from disease.

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