MT brucellosis case sparks restrictions

Oct 11, 2013

A second confirmed case of brucellosis in slightly more than a week, in a different Montana cattle herd near Yellowstone National Park, has prompted Texas to restrict imports of the state’s livestock.

“It’s extremely unfortunate that there were two cases confirmed, but it’s also proof the designated surveillance area is working,” Errol Rice, executive vice president of the Montana Stock Growers Association, told the Western Livestock Journal. “My understanding is the two cases are a result of whole herd cases. The infection rates are very low.”

Rice said the association is disappointed to see Texas impose new restrictions on livestock exported to the Lone Star State for fear the disease that causes cattle and elk to miscarry could spread beyond the Yellowstone ecosystem.

“We know those herds were in areas where there is persistent infection of migratory elk. One can probably surmise that it’s potentially in wildlife, as well,” Rice said.

Oct. 4 test results from a federal animal health laboratory confirmed the latest infection in a bull that was in a herd of about 550 cattle in Montana’s Park County. It was killed Sept. 23 so tissue samples could be taken.

Another case was confirmed Sept. 26 in Madison County. Brucellosis was since found in two more animals from its 1,100-head herd. All of the animals had been vaccinated. Testing on animals from herds adjacent to the ranches with infections continue in both Madison and Park counties.

“I think from the livestock and cattle industry perspective, we have been very proactive,” Rice said, noting federal agencies also have been closely engaged in preventing the disease’s spread.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) consistently reviews designated surveillance areas, he said, adding that Idaho and Wyoming also have been pursuing actions to mitigate brucellosis in the Yellowstone region.

While brucellosis is unfortunate for individual ranchers whose herds are quarantined, the $1 billion Montana livestock industry is pleased with the success it has en joyed in containing the disease, Rice said.

In 2007, Montana sustained its first livestock infection since 1985. Since then, 19 cows and 14 domestic bison in the state have tested positive for brucellosis. State Veterinarian Marty Zaluski said those low numbers show Montana’s aggressive, expensive testing has effectively limited the disease’s transmission.

Zaluski said Texas’ strict rules are unwarranted because of Montana’s additional testing put into effect after the state temporarily lost its brucellosis-free status in 2008. The rules could set a precedent for other states because they discredit efforts by Montana ranchers and animal health authorities to effectively manage the disease, he warned.

About 20,000 cattle are shipped annually to Texas from Montana, Idaho and Wyoming. On Monday, Oct. 7, Texas imposed a new rule that restricts the movements of cattle imported from the Yellowstone region until they can be re-tested for brucellosis.

Texas State Veterinarian Dee Ellis said his state is trying to protect itself from a disease that has plagued its livestock industry for decades before it was eliminated. The Texas Animal Health Commission is paying for the extra tests on the Yellowstone area imports.

When Montana had two brucellosis infections in a brief period in 2007 and 2008, federal sanctions hindered livestock exports and hurt the state cattle industry’s reputation. Those federal rules have been eased, but states have the authority to impose their own restrictions.

Before Montana increased its inspections and created the four-county surveillance area, APHIS required testing across entire states that experienced two brucellosis detections in livestock during a one-year period.

Rice said livestock market conditions are quite strong. While drought has afflicted areas, much needed moisture has come to some parts of Montana in late summer and early fall, improving hay production. Montana has been able to export its hay to drought-stricken states such as Texas, he noted. — Mark Mendiola, WLJ Correspondent