MT trich discussions cause controversy

Nov 11, 2011

The Montana Board of Livestock is expected to decide at its Nov. 14-15 meeting in Helena whether to make major changes in the way the Treasure State manages trichomoniasis, or “trich,” a venereal disease that causes cattle to abort their calves and costs ranchers large losses of revenue.

The Montana Department of Livestock (MDOL) recently held public hearings in Great Falls, Billings, Lewistown, Valier and Crow Agency to solicit input on proposals to shift from statewide trich testing to riskbased surveillance in two disease management areas with the highest risk for the disease.

A more controversial change is a rule for open cows still to be bred, originating from within the two “epizootic” areas encompassing 10 counties and those imported into Montana.

It is designed to prevent potentially exposed cows from re-entering the state’s breeding herd. No such cows without calves could be sold outside the areas except for slaughter and none could be imported into the state.

Dr. Tahnee Szymanski, staff veterinarian for the department, officiated at the five public hearings. Except for the Lewistown hearing attended by a handful, attendance at each of the hearings averaged 30. About 25 verbal and written comments were recorded.

“For the most part, individuals were opposed to the open cow rule changes. … Some felt the program we have now is sufficient,” Szyman ski told WLJ, noting some industry groups, veterinarians and producers support the changes.

Most of those who spoke at the hearings expressed support for proposed mandatory use of Montana trich tags. There also was discussion about whether Montana cattle are adequately protected from imported cattle, such as those imported from drought-stricken Texas, Szymanski said.

“We’re not quite where we need to be in order to get rich, but it could be a whole heck of a lot worse."

MDOL estimates trich causes annual economic losses to the U.S. beef industry exceeding $100 million due to reduced conception rates, lower weaning weights and increased culling.

In a letter to the Montana Board of Livestock, Montana Cattlemen’s Association President Kim Baker cautioned that open cow culling is not a financially sound way to prevent or stop trichomoniasis. Dry weather, icy conditions, stress and nutrition all are factors in cows losing calves, she noted.

“As you know, our cattle herd is a very valuable asset in Montana, and I would predict that there will be a shortage of this commodity in the near future. We will need to examine the protocol of culling cattle very closely,” Baker wrote.

She told WLJ that many things can go wrong with cows. “With the way cattle numbers are now, we need to save as much of the herd as we can,” Baker said.

While both trichomoniasis and brucellosis cause cows to abort their calves, trich primarily is a livestock disease while brucellosis is a wildlife disease transmitted to cattle via elk and bison. Unlike trich, brucellosis can spread to humans in the form of undulant fever or “butcher disease,” Baker said.

Montana ranchers have had a profitable year. Pastures have benefitted from abundant rain, and hay crops have been healthy, she said.

“Prices are very solid.

We’re not quite where we need to be in order to get rich, but it could be a whole heck of a lot worse,” said Baker, who raises a few hundred head of cattle with her husband Jim near Hot Springs, MT.

“We need to have a good, solid cow base in Montana. I think that our producers around here are doing everything right, vaccinating and testing,” she said. “Our beef is the safest in the world. Farmers and ranchers are doing their fair share with and without regulations. They take care of the land because the land takes care of them.” — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent