Human error led to the deaths of 83 cattle last month at a University of Nebraska-Lincoln research site, UNL officials say.
The 311 steers in a grazing study at the Agriculture Research and Development Center in Mead, Neb., were fed an FDA-approved ingredient that improves feed efficiency and protects against cattle parasites. But because of a feed-supplement formulation error by a faculty member, the steers were mistakenly fed higher-than-approved levels of the ingredient, said Galen Erickson, an animal science professor on UNL's East Campus who supervises the Mead facility.
“It's a big error, and we made it,” he said. “We're not trying to hide anything.''
The ingredient has been commonly used by livestock producers for several decades, said Erickson, 39. It is part of a standard diet fed to cattle in the UNL-funded research project, which examines the value of crop residue in the cattle's diet, he said. The formulated feed given to the cattle is not the focus of the study.
Once the error was detected, the feed was immediately removed from the cattle, Erickson said. No students were involved in formulating the feed.
Erickson said the cattle did not suffer. Some died of heart attacks, he said, while others were euthanized using a method approved by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
The surviving cattle were monitored and proved to be healthy, Erickson said. They remain at the research facility, where the research project continues, uncompromised by the losses, he said.
The dead cattle were disposed of at the Mead site by composting, an environmentally safe and approved method of handling animal carcasses.
Erickson said the university has never had a similar loss of research animals. UNL researchers adhere to strict federal standards when animals are involved, he said, characterizing last month's cattle deaths as rare and unfortunate.
In monetary terms, he said, the loss amounted to about $100,000.
UNL is reviewing the formulation error to ensure the mistake doesn't happen again, Erickson said.
Archie Clutter, dean of the animal research division of UNL's animal science department, said nobody would be fired and “no personnel actions will occur as a result of this event.”
Because it was an isolated incident involving human error, Clutter said, the U.S. Department of Agriculture will not conduct an investigation.