Farmers learn about TB practices, circle testing

ROGERS CITY – Cattle farmers and others learned about circle testing for bovine tuberculosis in parts of Presque Isle County at a meeting in Rogers City Wednesday.

They also learned about recent TB outbreaks in the Saginaw Bay area, and coming changes to TB surveillance practices in Presque Isle County. The meeting came around five months after hunters shot two TB-positive deer, one in Ocqueoc Township and another in Montmorency Township.

All cattle and bison herds within 10 miles of where the deer were taken must be tested by Sept. 17, Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development Bovine TB Eradication Program Coordinator Rick Smith said.

The testing is for all cattle and bison 12 months or older, and any non-natural additions to the herd, Smith said. It’s also for captive cervids, like deer and elk, goats aged six months and older that commingle with cattle or bison, and freezer beef operations. These herds are typically exempt from testing, have six head of cattle or less, aren’t used for breeding and slaughtered for the owner’s consumption. Any herds within the circles that can’t be tested by Sept. 17 must formulate a herd plan with MDARD, and producers who tested their whole herd within six months won’t have to do another.

“If you’re in the circle, herds are not under quarantine until the day testing begins,” he said, adding the quarantine remains until caudal fold and any follow-up tests come back negative.

One circle includes all of Moltke, North Allis and Ocqueoc townships, and parts of Allis, Bearinger, Belknap, Bismarck, Case and Rogers townships, according to a map from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. The other includes parts of Allis and Case townships, along with pieces of Cheboygan, Montmorency and Otsego counties.

Affected farmers should have received a letter from MDARD, Smith said. Farmers in Montmorency County won’t have to test, since they’re in the modified accredited zone and must test their herds yearly.

Presque Isle County and five others in northern Michigan are in the modified advanced accredited zone, MDARD Bovine TB Program Manager Mike VanderKlok said. Under a new memorandum of understanding between MDARD and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the rules for TB surveillance in this zone will be changing. Starting in May, the entire zone will move to testing by random selection. Breeding herds will be twice as likely to be selected, and herds won’t be picked twice until all others have been tested. Freezer beef operations and feed lots – those that sell only to slaughter – will be exempt, although circle testing may still occur if more TB-positive deer are found.

For Presque Isle County, MDARD will test 61 herds per year, VanderKlok said. Testing will include cattle 18 months of age and older, and all purchased cattle. Herds that don’t have a wildlife risk mitigation plan in place must test annually. For the remainder of the modified accredited zone, testing requirements will be a bit more lenient, mainly due to concerns over the number of TB-positive deer shot in Presque Isle County.

One audience member asked if the higher number of deer found in the county had to do with more deer being tested. While 556 deer were tested in Presque Isle County, 259 were tested in Antrim, Charlevoix, Cheboygan, Emmet and Otsego counties. Smith said there is a difference in sample sizes from 2013, but over the years since 1995 more deer have been tested from these five counties than from Presque Isle County.

VanderKlok also said the DNR has switched to passive TB surveillance in some of these counties, as fewer hunters were bringing deer to check stations. Most only did if they thought something was wrong with the deer.

It was one of many questions Smith and VanderKlok answered at the meeting, including one about a vaccine for TB. Smith said there’s been one for about 100 years, although it’s not very effective. Scientists have looked into ways to vaccinate deer by putting it in some sort of deer treat, but without much success. When the audience member asked about vaccinating cattle, Smith replied that vaccinated cattle would always test positive for TB.

“No country in the world would do business with us in terms of cattle sales,” he said.

Smith added scientists are looking into tests that can determine if a cow is infected or vaccinated, but such tests are in the early experimental stages.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.