A sick cow near Yellowstone National Park has Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer and cattlemen calling for measures to protect stock and ranchers.
The disease is brucellosis. The cow was in Paradise Valley. In May, it tested positive for the disease that causes cows to abort. The case will cause Montana to lose its federal designation as brucellosis-free.
“The big unknown is what will be the impact on the marketplace here in Montana,” said Dennis McDonald, former president of the Montana Cattlemen’s Association. “None of us know for sure. It’ll be a financial burden. It’s a question to what extent.”
What it means is that all of Montana’s livestock producers will now be required to test bulls and cows, unspayed and 18-months-old or older a month before interstate shipment.
Montana cattle ranchers who want to ship or move their stock will have to prove to the U.S. Department of Agriculture that the animals does not have brucella abortus bacterium, the causative agent of the disease, which does not have health risks associated with humans.
“It’s an enormous amount of work,” McDonald said.
Montana veterinarian Marty Zaluski said the loss of brucellosis free status is particularly frustrating given efforts by livestock producers and the industry to mitigate risks and increase disease surveillance.
“Producers in the Paradise Valley have been involved and diligent, and they have taken it upon themselves to be proactive in regard to managing the risk of brucellosis transmission,” Zaluski said. “In this particular case, the owner did everything right. The cow had been vaccinated twice and was part of a herd management plan.”
Officials will test to track the cause of the disease in the Paradise Valley animal. The last case was linked to elk, Zaluski said.
About a year ago, the disease was discovered in a Bridger cattle herd. Two herds, totaling 585 animals were killed to limit the spread of the disease. To keep its brucellosis-free status from the USDA, the state would have had to have no cases until July, 2009. Previously, Montana livestock had been free of the disease since 1985.
The soonest the state can apply to regain class free status is a year from the date the last positive animal was killed, which will be May 27 next year.
All other animals in the herd where the sick cow was found have tested negative for brucellosis. Herds with links to the herd where the infected cow was found will be placed under quarantine unless, or until, they are whole-herd tested.
McDonald of the Cattlemen’s Association said the second case does not come as a surprise. “I’m only surprised it took as long as it did,” he said. “It’s obvious that park wildlife is a reservoir of brucellosis.”
McDonald said the National Park Service has not made any significant efforts to curb the spread of the disease, which he was careful not to blame on bison.
McDonald advocated for vaccination
“We need funds for more research into a better vaccine. We need a plan to vaccinate wildlife in a manner that’s least destructive to their lives and ecosystems,” McDonald said.
Plus, he said, the area near Yellowstone National Park needs to be treated differently than the rest of the state.
Gov. Schweitzer agreed. Montana needs “split-state” status, he said, so cattle ranchers across the state won’t be affected by cases near Yellowstone.
Schweitzer has been advocating for a different brucellosis management strategy near the park since taking office. He called for a small, separate management zone—termed “split-state status” by USDA—for the area immediately surrounding the park. Only about 5 percent of the state’s cattle would have been affected by the USDA action.
“Let’s not play the blame-game,” McDonald said. “Let’s roll up our sleeves and figure out the next step.”