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State, federal officials increase area cattle-testing requirements

State and federal officials are stepping up cattle-testing requirements to deal with a bovine tuberculosis outbreak in northwest Minnesota, after deer shot recently in and near Roseau County, Minn., appear to have the disease.

State and federal officials are stepping up cattle-testing requirements to deal with a bovine tuberculosis outbreak in northwest Minnesota, after deer shot recently in and near Roseau County, Minn., appear to have the disease.

Last week, the culling of wild deer herds by sharpshooters working for the U.S. Department of Agriculture wrapped up, said Bill Paul, who is heading up the several sharp-shooting teams.

Total deer

A total of 448 deer were shot in about a month, a DNR official said this week, according to The Associated Press. On initial visual inspection, four of the deer carcasses showed signs of possible TB infection, although it will be weeks before test results are available.

Three deer infected with TB were found by testing deer shot by hunters during the regular fall season last year and in 2005.

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Paul said the sharpshooters used .308 caliber rifles with silencers and infrared lights and scopes and used night-vision goggles to work both night and day. The venison, which even in TB-infected animals would be safe for eating after cooking, was given to people or groups who signed up to take it. Key tissues were collected from each deer carcass for comprehensive testing that will take months.

Area surveyA DNR aerial survey this winter of the 140-square-mile around Skime, Minn., where the sharpshooters operated showed about 950 deer. That probably was well under the actual population because of heavy cover and snow, DNR officials said.

Because it appears the deer population has cases of TB, the testing requirements of cattle herds in the Skime area will be increased, according to a news release Thursday from Malissa Fritz, spokeswoman for the Minnesota Board of Animal Health.

All cattle herds in the designated "Core Area," where infected cattle were found will add higher fences and "alternative feeding and watering methods," to cut down contact between wild deer and the cattle herds, according to Fritz. Federal and state money will be available to pay for the measures.

TB first was found in 2005 in a cattle herd near Skime, and later in five other herds that had direct contact with the first herd. BAH and USDA officials think the TB originated in cattle brought up from the Southwest, based on the strain of bacteria. The six herds were liquidated, but the producers have restocked their farms, as allowed under general rules on dealing with TB infections.

But, the concern now is that if deer initially were infected through close contact with infected cattle, the same close contact could lead to re-infection in the reverse pattern, from deer to the new cattle herds.

Infected animalsThe owners of the cattle herds that were found to include infected animals now will have to inventory and TB-test their cattle every year and test any animals before moving them off the farm, according to Fritz.

"The testing will ensure early detection of any new TB infection in cattle that might result from exposure to TB-infected deer," said Bill Hartmann, state veterinarian and executive director of the BAH, in the news release. "In addition, these measures will provide assurance to other states and cattle markets that animals in this core area are not infected with TB."

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Also, cattle herds located near the "Core Area," will be designated in the "TB Management Zone and will have to be tested annually. The cost of the tests will be paid with government funds.

The DNR has banned recreational feeding of deer in a 4,000-square-mile region around the area where TB was found in cattle herds. The feeding of deer has become popular by landowners to promote hunting, and combined with relatively mild winters in recent years, has helped boost the whitetail deer population in the region.

Because of the discovery of TB in cattle herds, Minnesota lost its federal "TB-free" status, which means producers are more restricted in selling and buying cattle in and out of the state. It will be more than two years before the status may be regained.

For more information online, see www.bah.state.mn.us or www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/tb .

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