From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 4, Number 13 - June 24, 2004
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Brucellosis tool chest building

by Cat Urbigkit

Last week's Wyoming Brucellosis Task Force meeting in Lander had the group working to address cattle issues in regard to brucellosis transmission.

University of Wyoming College of Agriculture Dean Dr. Frank Galey and Eric Peterson of UW Extension Service led the group through a discussion of tools available to address the brucellosis situation, first focusing on ways to minimize disease transmission between species. These management practices are to be looked at as potential tools, applicable in some but not all situations, Galey said.

Included on the list were:

- GIS mapping of information, including all the risk factors, land patterns, parturition areas, elk damage areas, feedgrounds, seroprevalance of herd unit, cattle feeding areas, type of cattle operation, stackyard locations, history of elk and cattle herd disease, habitat improvement areas, migration routes, allotments, land ownership, winter range and precipitation patterns.

- Share all data with stakeholders and public

- Individual elk-herd unit-management plans, with specific sections for each feedground

- Additional fencing via feedground management plan specifics

- GIS mapping to help producers avoid elk-calving areas

- Maintain elk/cattle spatial and temporal separation during critical periods of exposure of individual unit plans will address the critical periods of exposure

- Elk-proof fence stack yards when appropriately incorporated into management plans

- Feed on fresh snow when possible and spread the elk out as much as possible.

The group expressed the need to be sure that producers understand that any maps produced from the effort would be public information, so that if the rancher didn't want certain information to be made public, they should not allow the information to be included.

Although it had been suggested that feeding off the ground (for both elk and cattle) may be useful in preventing disease transmission, task force members doubt the feasibility of such an effort.

Wyoming State Veterinarian Dr. Jim Logan said, "I don't think that's real feasible."

Pinedale outfitter Terry Pollard said, "I don't see any benefit from feeding in a container."

Galey pointed out if a producer is feeding off the ground and there is an abortion, the animals in the herd are still going to go sniff it, so feeding off the ground won't resolve the issue anyway.

Rob Hendry pointed out that providing miles of feed bunks would be a costly proposition. Hendry said that Brad Mead had pointed out to him that in western Wyoming, many producers don't use commercial fertilizer, so they winter feed in a new row every day, spreading the natural fertilizer.

Pollard said that feeding elk out of bunks would be further concentrating them, not a desired outcome.

Boulder rancher Joel Bousman said nothing can spread disease faster than feeding your calves in a feedlot, so feeding on clean snow would be preferable.

Wyoming Game and Fish Department's Scott Werbelow said in terms of feeding elk, "This would be a logistical nightmare." He suggested it be removed from the list, because if it were to remain, people will want to know why WG&F isn't doing it. The item was deleted from the list.

When it came time to discuss surveillance management practices that should be implemented, progress wasn't so swift. The group agreed that producers should follow the Wyoming Livestock Board and federal animal health rules on brucellosis testing, but exactly what those rules should encompass is up for debate.

Logan said, "The real risk are the cull cows," to which Thermopolis veterinarian Dr. Bill Williams (who also serves on the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission) agreed, "The cull cows are the canary."

Bill Lambert of the Wyoming Livestock Board said he doesn't have a problem with the testing of cull cows, but said he'd rather focus on the high-risk area than statewide efforts, which he said would be "a waste of money."

Logan said that federal animal health officials will probably recommend some sort of statewide surveillance, but "to protect ourselves, we need to focus more on the risk area."

The group agreed that another surveillance tool should be "cull cattle sales shall be tested prior to change of ownership." But when it was suggested that this "tool" also become a "recommendation" of the task force, debate followed.

Lambert cautioned the group, "We could be making this more restrictive than what we have today with Class A."

Lambert said requiring that all cull cows be tested prior to change of ownership would cause a bottleneck at sale barns, with cattle being held for days for testing and clearance prior to sales.

"That's going to be more burdensome than we're dealing with today," Lambert said. The group agreed to change the wording to "upon change of ownership," rather than prior to change.

Another tool identified by the group would be to continue to test test-eligible cattle and domestic bison (if the animals are not from certified brucellosis-free herds) from high-risk areas even after Wyoming regains its brucellosis-free status. This testing would be done at change of ownership or when the animals are moved from the area.

The group agreed that working to promote voluntary brucellosis-free herd certification in the risk area would be a useful tool as well. But it was pointed out later in the day that if a certified herd commingles with a non-certified herd, the certification is lost. Many producers in what is viewed as the "risk area" of western Wyoming graze in common allotments with other producers.

The July 19 brucellosis task force meeting in Pinedale will focus on what action should be taken in the event of a subsequent outbreak and will also address human health issues associated with brucellosis.

A task force committee chaired by Logan is working to draft a roadmap for the state to follow in event of a subsequent outbreak.

Logan said in the last outbreak, the biggest criticism he had heard from producers was that Wyoming had notified the other states, triggering movement restrictions and concern. Logan was emphatic that an effective communication system has to be in place and that other states have to be told what's going on.

Lysite rancher Rob Hendry said he'd recently attended the Colorado Cattlemen's Association meeting in which the Colorado state vet mentioned his appreciation at being notified. Hendry said that some of the cattle from the infected Sublette County herd had ended up in southern Colorado in a short period of time, demonstrating the need for Colorado animal health officials to know about the Wyoming situation.

"This thing could have spread like wildfire," Hendry said.

Logan confirmed that some of the cattle ended up in South Dakota, Nebraska, Colorado and Idaho.

"That's why it's so important - you can't hide this," Logan said.

The task force will meet in Pinedale on July 19, with a tour of the Soda Lake and Muddy feedgrounds to take place on July 20.

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