From the pages of
Sublette Examiner
Volume 8, Number 13 - June 19, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Vaccination against brucellosis is confirmed by thte orange metal tag the vet clips onto a cow’s right ear. (File Photo)
Brucellosis Strikes Sublette Herd
Ranchers want Strain 19, support fellow producer
by Joy Ufford

“Brucellosis” – a word that makes cattle ranchers shudder, a disease that resists eradication. And when it is discovered lurking in a friend’s and neighbor’s cattle herd, the others might think, “That could be me.”

That could be why ranchers standing to ask questions of a panel at a public meeting Tuesday night voiced strong support for the Daniel area rancher in whose herd two of 11 Angus cows (“Bang’s” vaccinated against it as calves) culture tested “positive” for brucellosis this week.

“At this time there is no doubt we’re dealing with a brucellosis-infected herd,” Wyoming State Vet Walt Cook told the crowd of about 100, mainly ranchers and families, in the Pinedale Auditorium.

“What we’re faced with now is where do we go from here?”

A majority made it clear where they want to go – and that is back to using Strain 19 vaccine instead of RB51, which they argue doesn’t offer long-term effective protection against brucellosis.

The rest of the rancher’s sexually intact cows and bulls underwent preliminary testing Wednesday at temporary corrals where the herd is currently quarantined.

Public update

“We need to figure out if this is one cattle herd (infected) ... or if there are others,” Cook said. “Are only two (cows) in this herd infected? It will also provide the producer with some direction as to where he will go from here.”

Cook spoke along with officials from the Wyoming Livestock Board University of Wyoming,Wyoming Game & Fish,Wyoming Department of Agriculture, Gov. Dave Freudenthal’s office and USDA’s Animal and PlantHealth Inspection Services (APHIS).

The brucella abortus field strain (commonly found in wild elk and bison) was confirmed in the Daniel herd after a series of six tests and a necropsy showed “strong positives” on the two cows, which were vaccinated against brucellosis as calves with RB-51 and were four to five years old when routine tests at a sale barn showed strong reactions.

The meeting followed protocol set by the Wyoming Brucellosis Coordination Team (BCT) after the 2004 discovery of brucellosis in another Sublette cattle herd near Boulder where wintering elk were fed on the ranch’s private land and possibly transmitted the disease to the cattle. Two more Sublette herds were infected and all were destroyed.

Questions, concerns

Complex political and practical issues and many questions arise from the discovery – coming nine months after APHIS announced Wyoming’s recovery of its brucellosis-free status in September 2007. In Montana, last week’s discovery of a second infected herd will result in the state losing its own “free” status, as could happen in Wyoming, Cook said.

Many questions and answers – along with pros and cons – were traded Tuesday night.

What is the brucellosis’ source – nearby wildlife or other cattle? Does a nearby G&F elk feedground harbor the disease after elk leave?

Will “contacts herds” with “fence-to fence” contact or those using the same grazing grounds also need testing? Will neighbors who bought purebred bulls from the rancher have to sell them or face quarantine and testing as well?

Will the rest of Wyoming ask Sublette County or the “Greater Yellowstone Area” to separate from the rest of the state? What would a “split-state status” mean commercially and politically?

What is the timeline for the rancher’s very personal decision on whether or not to “depopulate” or slaughter his cattle? Can he choose to completely test the entire herd through to the end?

And finally – overwhelmingly – can Sublette ranchers get Strain 19 vaccine back?

Find the source

Tuesday night, each panel member gave nuggets of expertise, from Wyoming State Vet Lab diagnostics to brucellosis herd plans, from elk feedground concerns to split-state status, from the Strain 19 and RB51 vaccines to BCT recommendations.

APHIS Vet Bret Combs said the infection’s source needs to be located with a “very in-depth epidemiology ... as rapidly as possible.”

This involves a series of tests to eliminate those carrying or having the contagious disease, which causes animals such as cattle and wild elk and bison to abort their calves.

G&F Director Terry Cleveland outlined the in-depth steps taken by his agency to monitor and reduce the transmission of brucellosis from elk to cattle.

“... In my career, brucellosis is the most difficult issue,” he said.

Closing elk feedgrounds would starve wintering elk, allow more elk-cattle commingling and would not eliminate brucellosis, Cleveland said.

Bad timing

Combs acknowledged this is “a tricky time of year” to carry out tests with many Sublette herds just turned out on summer pastures.

“We can pretty well assure everybody if they run fence to fence ... or have breeding contact ... one test will not be enough,” Combs said. “We probably need to go through another calving cycle on those animals.”

In fact, he explained later, if the rancher decides to not “depopulate” within 60 days (of the official confirmation expected later this week from the National Vet Services Lab in Iowa,) and wants to “test his way out” he faces at least a year of subsequent quarantine and testing, as might other producers.

If all returns come up “negative,” Combs said, testing would occur again in 30 days, then in six months and a year for the entire herd. He warned contact herds could be quarantined and finding another infected herd within two years would drop Wyoming’s “free” status to “Class A,” which makes transport out of state or even within much more difficult.

This rancher could slaughter his herd and start over with APHIS fair-market compensation for the breeding age, sexually intact animals that would be destroyed, or he can spay his heifers, Combs said. Depopulation is not federally mandated, he added.

“Unfortunately there will be other people that will be quarantined in connection to this,” he said. “That’s a very big issue for those herd owners to have to face. Some say it’s blackmail. I don’t look at it that way. ... Indemnity gets the diseased animals out of the population.”

Combs said APHIS has been “running on a shoestring the last couple of years.” “I did a check, if need be we’ve got money in the bank right now to cover depopulation ... of this particular herd,” he said.

Lyman Clark asked if depopulating the herd would actually affect brucellosis if its source is wildlife.

“I feel really bad for this producer,” Cook replied. “If he depopulates and brings in new cattle, and the ultimate source is wildlife, his risk has not gone down. ... We’re stuck dealing with the regulations that are in place.”

“I don’t like the way the producer is being blackmailed into depopulating,” Kevin Campbell said. “If he chooses not to depopulate I support him.”

Strain 19 vs. RB51

Combs said APHIS went to RB51 without doing “long long research” but also spent millions to slaughter cattle testing “false positive” with Strain 19 in their blood. He suggested “boostering” cattle with RB51 but calls it a “stop-gap.

”“We have tested one hell of a lot of cows,” said moderator WLB Director Jim Schwartz. “Is that the rightway to go? ... I don’twant to lose one more rancher in this country. I want you guys to stay in business but we’ve got to figure out how to do that.”

Albert Sommers, also a WLB member, told Combs, “When APHIS took Strain 19 away from us they created this issue....You can say all you want about all the studies you want (but there was no problem with Strain 19).”

Charles Price asked Combs why APHIS doesn’t collect its past testing data and use it to compare the two vaccines.

“Statistically you’re creating a large experiment right here,” he said of the quarantined herd and pasttests. “You talk about(needing)massive numbers of cattle; you’ve tested massive number of cattle.”

“In years past we’ve looked at alot of numbers but alot were ‘negative’ cows so we didn’t do any other work with them,” Combs replied.

Price suggested running vaccination data to determine the two vaccines’ effectiveness.

Combs said he could go back and look at data and relationships between cattle ages and infection.

“I suggest it would be worthwhile to find that out at least for us here,” Price said.

Combs did say Wyoming, Sublette or “Greater Yellowstone Area” ranchers could request Strain 19 officially but “there are farreaching consequences to doing that” including potential cattle loss due to false positive results.

Cook said, “If that’s what producers in this area want we can certainly ask.”

“I think false positive is way better than brucellosis,” Campbell said.

Joel Bousman suggested the false positives “should be an incentive to get a better vaccine. RB51 after three years – it’s probably worthless.”

Doug Vickrey told the panel, “There are a lot worse things out there” than brucellosis. “Take this thing by the neck and decide maybe brucellosis isn’t the demon we think it is. ...I haven’t see the human population die from undulant fever lately.”

Photo credits:  File Photo

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