SD ranchers with TB in herd press on
In the face of the destruction in the ranching industry caused by this week’s fires, their herd’s quarantine and testing for bovine Tuberculosis doesn’t seem like the worst thing in the world said Susan Nelson, Harding County rancher. “To go out and find your cattle alive and burned, that would be worse.”
State veterinarian Dustin Oedekoven informed Wayne and Susan Nelson last month that three TB-positive cows had been traced back to their herd.
“It’s a blow when it initially hits you. But you go through a process,” Nelson said. “We try to find something each day to be thankful for.”
“We’ve got our kids here to help us and we’re thankful for that,” she said. The Nelsons’ two adult daughters and adult son live in the vicinity. One daughter is on the family ranch and the others work off the ranch but are available to help as much as they can.
“The unknown is the scariest part,” she said, adding that they await test results that will help determine what steps they will take next.
The Nelsons have worked with the state vet department to test their entire herd for TB and the state has made connection with outfits that they have purchased cattle from and sold cattle to.
Because of the possibility of false positives, the state retests any positive reactors and cattle that test positive in the second test are euthanized and tissue samples are sent to the state lab for confirmation of the presence of the disease.
Dr. Oedekoven said a total of 26 head of cattle that were euthanized from the Nelson herd were confirmed to be infected. This number includes the initial three found in Nebraska slaughter plants that alerted the state to the situation.
According to Lyndsey Cole, USDA APHIS Public Affairs Assistant Director, producers receive indemnity payments if it is determined that their cattle must be depopulated to stop the spread of disease. “The amount of the indemnity payment equals the fair market value of the cattle, and that is determined through an appraisal before the animals are depopulated,” she said.
“All remaining animals that reacted to the initial test in the affected herd have been removed from the herd. Additional information to be gained from those animals (possibly by late next week) will provide additional information about the level of infection in the herd,” he said.
Knowing some of their best cows had to be put down was difficult, Nelson said, but she has tried to shift her focus.
“We just keep moving forward. We have to put it in God’s hands. If you don’t, you start to panic and you can’t function the way you need to.”
Nelson said after the initial testing of their herd they wanted to personally contact their neighbors to let them know about the situation.
“We didn’t want them to get a call from the state vet. We wanted to deliver the news personally.” Nelson said after talking to neighbors on the phone, they sent an e-mail with as many details as they could share.
“We told them we did the testing as fast as we could but we’ve learned that this all takes time.”
Oedekoven said 13 adjacent herds and approximately 8,000 head of cattle including the affected herd, are under quarantine until testing is complete. In order for a herd to be taken out of quarantine, the cattle need to be tested and cleared by the state vet’s office.
This week seven herds representing around 3,200 head of cattle are being tested, he said.
At a community meeting in Buffalo, South Dakota, Dr. Oedekoven told the gymnasium full of people that his first priority is to maintain TB-free status so that South Dakota producers can continue to market cattle freely, he said.
“I care about producers and want you to be able to market your cattle,” he said at the March 9 meeting, a week after his office released the news that TB had been discovered in a Harding County herd.
In some cases, the entire herd isn’t being tested right away. Heifers might be tested first in order to complete the process before they start to calve, for example.
Dr. Oedekoven said more herds could be placed under quarantine as his office continues to investigate the situation.
How is South Dakota affected?
South Dakota has not lost its TB-free status, Oedekoven said.
Standard protocol calls for the state to track cattle forward and back from the affected herd over the last 5 years. Eleven states are involved as either being home to a source herd or a recipient herd of cattle from the affected herd over the last five years, he said, but he has not heard from any states that have, at least yet, placed restrictions on cattle from South Dakota or from the affected region.
Where did it come from?
Oedekoven said sometimes through analysis of the bacteria in the affected animals, the origin of the particular strain of TB can be pinned down. These lab results are not available yet. “I’ve not found the source yet. We’ll be looking. Many times we don’t find the source,” he said, adding that sometimes they can identify if whether the strain is a cervid strain (originating in deer or elk) or even a strain from Mexico.
Cattle from Mexico do carry a higher risk of harboring TB than cattle from the U.S., he added, saying that even though TB testing is required before Mexican cattle cross the border, the quality of testing is not up to U.S. standards. Sometimes these cattle show up in the U.S. in the form of roping or bulldogging steers, so Dr. Oedekoven cautioned producers to be aware of that, and to consider keeping Mexican cattle separate from their main herds.
The state vet’s office is working with the state Game, Fish and Parks staff to determine how best to assess the deer in the area to determine if they are carrying the disease. “Deer can be very efficient at spreading the disease, but at this time we don’t know if they have it or not,” he said. “It is a concern and something we’ll be looking at.”
Nelson said the closest elk are about 30 miles from their ranch but that white tail deer are prevalent in the area.
What is TB?
Because TB is a very slow-moving disease, cattle often don’t ever exhibit signs of the disease.
There is no vaccine or effective treatment for TB, said Dr. Oedekoven.
The disease is not highly transmittable but can be passed from animal to animal through direct contact or through ingestion of bodily fluid like snot.
Cattle in close proximity such as a feedlot and those sharing waterers or feedbunks would be the most likely to transmit it to one another. The sun kills the bacteria so the disease is less likely to spread in large numbers in a pasture grazing setting.
It is “possible and likely” that an infected cow would pass the disease to her calf, Dr. Oedekoven said. Sheep and horses can get the disease from cattle but it’s not likely to happen, he said.
In the last case of TB in South Dakota cattle, no adjacent herds were found to be infected.
In the case of the Harding County cattle, they appeared healthy but in a routine slaughter exam, the USDA examining vet found suspicious-looking lung lesions, submitted samples to the lab for testing, and determined that TB was, in fact present.
The neighbors have been supportive and kind throughout the process. Several neighbors are now beginning the testing process, too.
While they calve their heifers and prepare for full-on calving season with their cows, the Nelsons are busy enough that they don’t have time to dwell on the challenges of the situation. They are thinking of the support their friends and neighbors have shown.
The neighbors have been supportive and kind throughout the process, Nelson said. Bordering ranches are now beginning the testing process, too.