Bovine TB questions answered at informational meeting

Tim Barnum
Several area farmers listen to a bovine TB presentation by Rick Smith, of the Michigan Department of Agriculture.
Tim Barnum
Rick Smith, of the MDA, describes the history of TB in Michigan.
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STANDISH TWP. — Questions surrounding the recent discovery of bovine tuberculosis at a Lincoln Township feedlot were answered during an informational meeting held by the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Sept. 26.

The meeting, which was held at the Standish Township Hall, was hosted by Dr. Rick Smith, the TB program manager for the state of Michigan. Smith’s presentation began with an overview of bovine TB’s history, and the testing for it, in the state. He also traced how it is believed the TB-infected heifer made its way to Arenac County.

Smith said the infected animal was purchased from a Gratiot County herd, where it was being fed milk from cows in a Saginaw County herd. He said the milk had TB in it.

“We traced this animal. This animal didn’t actually start at the Saginaw herd, so the fellow who was doing this, he had a little route where he was picking up deacon calves,” Smith said. “He was getting milk from the Saginaw herd. He was feeding it to his calves.”

The animal was purchased by an Arenac County producer in December 2012, and Sept. 5, the local producer’s herd was designated as a TB herd after the infection was found, he added.

“The rest of the herd was tested and were negative,” he said.

Even though the rest of the herd was negative, Smith said farms with cattle in a three-mile radius still have to be tested, a process called circle-testing. One local farmer at the meeting who is in that radius, Ernie Wenkel, said he thought having to test all of those nearby farms even after the rest of the designated herd was negative was asking too much.

“I think it’s a little overkill myself,” he said.

Smith said he empathized with farmers who have to have the testing done, but added the three-mile radius is much less inclusive than how circle-testing was done several years ago, when farms within a 10-mile radius were tested for TB.

He added that 14 farmers received letters to have testing conducted. Some of these, Smith said, no longer even have cattle on-site. Farmers can have their herds tested by a regulatory veterinarian through the MDA or by their own private veterinarian if he or she is contracted with the MDA to provide the tests, according to Smith.

“The Arenac circle has to be done within six months, so that would be March 16,” he said.

Farms that have to be tested can continue to conduct business as usual, but when testing begins, no cattle can be taken off or brought onto the premises, Smith said.

“The day the testing begins, the farm is quarantined, and once the testing in completed, the quarantine is lifted,” he said, adding that if a test comes back positive, the quarantine will continue.

Cattle 12 months and older in the circle have to be tested, as well as any cattle who were not born there, Smith said.

During a question-and-answer session at the meeting, Arenac County dairy farmer and County Commissioner Jeff Trombley asked if the infection would affect the county’s status as TB-free, which it has had since 2011.

Smith said the TB investigation by the MDARD would continue until the end of November and by then there would be more light shed on that subject. He said if nothing else shows up, the county would likely remain classified as TB-free.

“We’re still going through the process, so it’s too soon to say if this is going to have a happy ending or not,” he said.

Trombley also asked if the Arenac County herd was being depopulated, and Smith said it would be.

Cattle aren’t the only animals that will be tested. Smith said the Michigan Department of Natural Resources will also test deer in the circle over the next three years. He said the DNR hopes to test 300 deer per year in the circle. Smith said no deer with TB have been found yet, but it is not known if deer in the area are completely TB-free.

“We’re not finding any evidence of it to this point,” he said. “The jury’s still out on that because they have this season, the next season and the season after that.”

According to Smith, TB testing began in Michigan in 1917 and was discontinued in 1979 after the U.S. Department of Agriculture deemed the state to be TB-free. The next year, Smith said an infected animal was found in Alcona County, and in 1994 an infected animal was discovered in Alpena County.

After that infection was discovered, the MDA started testing again, and in 1998 two more herds were found to have TB present and the state lost its TB-free status. Over the next several years, there was fewer and fewer TB cases found in Michigan and most of the counties were listed as TB-free by 2011.

Currently, the state’s TB zone, which includes Montmorency, Oscoda, Alcona, Presque Isle and Alpena counties have the highest risk for TB to be present. Several surrounding counties — Crawford, Cheboygan, Ogemaw, Roscommon, Crawford, Emmet, Otsego, Iosco and Antrim — are in a modified accredited zone, which means the deer in this zone are about twice as likely to have TB.

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