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Agriculture Today

Detecting, isolating diseases while rebuilding herds after drought

Detecting, isolating diseases while rebuilding herds after drought
Texas Animal Health Commission Executive Director and State Veterinarian Dee Ellis addresses state cattlemen during their annual convention July 26 in Bastrop.

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Wilson County News
August 7, 2013
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BASTROP -- What do the past state legislative session and the animal health industry have in common? Plenty, if you ask the state veterinarian with the Texas Animal Health Commission. Dr. Dee Ellis, executive director and state veterinarian, addressed the impact of diseases in the cattle industry, and gave an overview of the last legislative session during the Independent Cattlemen’s Association of Texas (ICA) convention in late June.

With the state slowly recovering from a major drought, some animals taken to greener pastures up north are returning to Texas, bringing unwelcome baggage -- cattle tuberculosis (TB).

Nine positive TB cases have been reported thus far, Ellis said. This is double from last year at this time. TB is being found in feedlots where breeding animals commingle with Mexican steers.

Cattle brucellosis, or bang’s disease, is also a problem that Texas ranchers have worked hard to eradicate from the state. While Texas is bang’s disease-free, the Yellowstone area is known to have a problem with it.

Texas began restocking its herd with animals from the Yellowstone area. Ellis estimates 20,000 breeding animals a year are being brought in from Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho, and Ellis is concerned.

“It is a serious problem with elk and the bison population, with the loss of these market tests,” from the three-state region [Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho] ... “we are going to lose slaughter tests on the national level without a surveillance system. We fought too hard to get rid of it [bangs] in Texas,” Ellis said.

Animal ID

One tool aiding in the monitoring of a disease outbreak is the animal disease identification traceability program. A federal program went into effect March 11 of this year, and the state’s program began Jan. 1.

Adult breeding animals must be identified with Brite tags, breeder’s registration tattoos, or firebrands.

An issue being discussed is how to make use of back tags when selling directly to slaughter facilities versus breeding purposes and trading animals.

The Texas Animal Health Commission is working with cattle organizations, including the ICA and the Texas Livestock Marketing Association.

“My message is this,” Ellis said. “If you sell a breeding animal, we are going to continue the rules that the commission approved ... that they are gonna be tagged.”

Other diseases

Animal traceability is important in monitoring other diseases across the nation, including the swine disease, porcine epidemic diarrhea virus (PEDV), that is a problem in the Midwest. As of June, no cases had been confirmed in Texas. Biosecurity is important to help producers prevent introducing a disease into a herd.

Also a concern is border security with Mexico, Ellis said. Of concern there are avian flu, as well as TB and bang’s disease.

The regulations regarding cattle trichomoniasis or trich in Texas are successful, with only 2 percent positive cases being detected, Ellis said.

The state is also monitoring equine piroplasmosis, a tick-transmitted blood disease, as well as fever ticks in Southwestern Texas.

State bills

The last state legislative session was a busy one for the animal health commission. Ellis discussed six bills -- relating to the Texas Animal Health Commission -- ranging from poultry to cervids, fever ticks, animal identification, the dairy industry, and veterinary.

An old law, going back 50 years, now includes a clause for poultry, as well as livestock. In the event a herd needs to be depopulated for disease purposes, financial reimbursement might be offered, if funding is available.

Poultry is a big industry in Texas, also, Ellis said.

“This backyard stock in Northeast Texas affects the poultry trade, and we couldn’t do anything about it” without this bill, he said.

Also mentioned were cervids, especially whitetail deer. The debate of the “right to raise” or manage the deer continues.

A strong philosophical debate continues between farm-raised deer and wild deer. The overriding philosophy is that deer should be wild.

More than 1,250 people have permits to raise deer and it is a “viable industry.” Ellis said. “They make and generate a lot of money ...” he said.

The Texas Wildlife Bill states if the Texas Wildlife Code is being used to depopulate a farm-raised deer herd, then an assessment study by the Texas Animal Health Commission may be allowed.

Fever tick eradication in South Texas is a major topic during any cattlemen’s meeting. Laws allow for the treatment of fever ticks with the use of Ivomectin in blocks or other feed sources.

The Texas animal disease identification bill states that the state law cannot exceed the federal identification program approved. Ellis reminded cattlemen that the unpopular National Animal Identification System (NAIS) was scrapped.

A surprise bill for Ellis was the evaluation to allow El Paso’s dairy business again to thrive. Ten years ago, the government bought out the 10 to 15 dairies operating, due to cattle brucellosis. A study is in the process to determine if it is safe to bring dairy animals back to El Paso.

An important bill -- the first in the United States -- is the veterinary testing program. This will give some guidance to veterinarians, since no regulations had existed for testing such as trich, bang’s disease, TB, or -- if working with deer herds -- chronic wasting disease.


With the need to monitor diseases, the need for manpower is important and this costs money. With the loss of almost 50 percent of its state funding, the Texas Animal Health Commission Agency’s staff was greatly cut back from 200 employees to 125. But with $2 million being allocated for the department, Ellis said the agency will rehire 25-30 people. Ellis credits the Eagle Ford shale oil and gas exploration and the other shale formations throughout the state for this added revenue.

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