From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 25 - June 19, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Ranchers meet on brucellosis

by Jonathan Van Dyke

In the wake of confirmation that two cows from a Daniel ranching herd have brucellosis, a public meeting was held on Tuesday night in the Pinedale High School Auditorium by the State Veterinarian’s office to address the issue.

“All six [blood tests] were very strongly positive,” Dr. Donald Montgomery said. The two cows were found at a routine market test on June 10, and confirmed by the State Veterinarian’s office to have a field strain of brucella abortas on Tuesday. Officials now await confirmation from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory in Ames, Iowa.

The ranching community present supported the rancher in whatever avenue he chooses, one choice including a depopulation of his herd — a move where the federal government would buy out the infected herd at fair market value.

“Depopulation is voluntary,” said Dr. Bret Combs, a veterinarian in the area for the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). “Indemnity just covers the value of the cattle.” As far as the ramifications for the state goes, there is a small window to work in. “Basically in a nutshell, we need to figure out if this one herd infected is the only one,” State Veterinarian Walt Cook said.

The organizations with a stake in brucellosis testing will be rapidly tracing the history and mingling of the affected herd. “If too much time passes, it can jeopardize the state’s brucellosis-free status,” Combs said.

The positive test could result in a possible split-state status for Wyoming with this region under Class A status, and the rest of the state could maintain a free status. A status change could result in greater testing, movement restrictions and other states may impose sanctions on Wyoming livestock.

However, ranchers here would not have to depopulate and the rest of the state would still enjoy free status.

“Another issue is, where do you draw the line?” Cook said. “I want to hear from producers.I’m not going to make that decision on my own.”

Many ranchers came forward during the comment section to express displeasure with the vaccine policies being imposed on them, while expressing support for the infected herd’s rancher.

Ranchers previously vaccinated their cattle with Strain 19 to prevent the disease, but the vaccine sometimes caused false positives, leading to a shift to RB51. Many of the ranchers present called for a return to Strain 19.

“We didn’t have these issues like we do now until they took [Strain 19] away,” said Albert Sommers, rancher and chairman of the Sublette County Planning and Zoning Commission.

The panel admitted that it appears RB51 may not be as potent over as long a period of time, encouraging ranchers to reapply the vaccine every other year.

“I don’t think we know the long term strength of RB51,” Cook said.

At one point Cook asked the room how many people would be in favor of allowing Strain 19 use again, and the majority raised their hands. Cook does have an avenue to apply for special use of Strain 19, he said. “Let us have Strain 19 back, at least until a better vaccine is available,” said Joel Bousman, rancher and Sublette County Commissioner.

Bousman also mirrored the support of many in attendance for the rancher, and argued against a split-state status, pointing to the fact that fighting brucellosis needs the weight of the entire state behind it.

“We stayed in this as a state [during the last positive herd],” Bousman added. “It’s better to stay in this as one state.”

The panel encouraged ranchers to adopt brucellosis herd plans that would document the risk of a given herd based on a set of questions. Ranchers could also try for brucellosis-free certification, which requires annual blood testing of all 6-month old sexually intact cattle. It takes a full year of testing before certification is reached.

Wyoming Game and Fish Director Terry Cleveland received a great deal of praise from the comments regarding the agency’s pilot testing program for elk herds, and for his defense of elk feeding grounds, which he earlier in the meeting said helped prevent comingling between the two animals. Co-mingling between elk and cattle can result in the spreading of brucellosis.

Still, Cook was confident that his testing was true, and that the national results were just a formality. With the positive test, any herds fence-to-fence with those infected will have to be tested, along with herds that have co-mingled with the infected herd. If it is found that only this singular herd is infected, the state would need to go a full two years without finding a newly infected herd to avoid losing its brucellosis free status.

The panel admitted that depopulating does not at all guarantee that the disease will not spread. Many ranchers cited just that fact when issuing their support for the infected herd’s rancher. The scene was that of unity, for a ranching community that is facing a tough issue.

“I’ll support him,” rancher Kevin Campbell said. “I don’t care if we lose our status.”

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