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USDA addresses Texas health issues

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has extended funding for the cattle tuberculosis (TB) testing program until the end of 2004, reports Bob Hillman, Texas’ state veterinarian and head of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC). The extension will allow ranchers to take advantage of a free TB test for their seedstock or purebred cattle.

"Increased TB surveillance must be accomplished in order for Texas’ TB-free status, downgraded two years ago, to be reinstated. TB-free status will enhance the marketability of Texas cattle, because breeding animals could move across state lines without TB-testing requirements or restrictions," Hillman said in a TAHC news release.

Texas, New Mexico, California and Michigan are currently the only states not considered TB-free. Each state is following a specially tailored plan to regain TB-free status, Hillman explained, urging Texas producers to contact either the TAHC or one of 550 of the state’s certified private veterinary practitioners to arrange for a TB herd test. Private practitioners are reimbursed by the TAHC through cooperative agreement funds from the USDA.

Of the state’s 807 dairies tested for TB since last fall, only one has been found infected and is being depopulated. However, the state’s plan calling for testing of 2,400 purebred or beef breeding herds has produced only about 300 herd tests as of early September, far short of the goal.

Call the TAHC at 1-800-550-8242 to arrange for a free TB test.

Brucellosis tests available

Producers also may arrange for free herd tests for brucellosis (Bang’s disease) if their cattle have had potential exposure to the bacterial disease or if the herd exhibits symptoms such as abortions, weak calves or lowered milk production. Hillman said proactive measures are crucial when trying to find infection since brucellosis is often silent, with few obvious signs of disease.

States may be considered free of brucellosis after 12 months without an infected herd and a USDA-mandated review. Texas and Wyoming are the only states without the free status.

Fever tick precautions

Hillman also suggests inspecting cattle carefully for unusual ticks or for blistering around the animal’s mouth, nose, teats or hooves when handling them.

"Watch for cattle that stagger or fall," he cautions. "Seven ranches outside the permanent fever tick zone in Kinney and Zapata counties have been found infested with the dangerous fever tick, capable of transmitting Texas Fever, which can be deadly to cattle."

The TAHC and USDA Tick Force are tracing, inspecting, dipping or spraying cattle that were moved from the pastures prior to the detection of ticks. All cattle inspected have been free of fever ticks.

Tick and maggot submission kits can be obtained from TAHC area offices, private veterinary practitioners or the TAHC headquarters at 1-800-550-8242. Unusual ticks or maggots should be submitted for identification to the State-Federal Laboratory. There is no charge for this service.

VS dangers

Three premises in Kerr County and one in Dimmit County remain under quarantine due to vesicular stomatitis (VS), a blistering disease that can affect a wide variety of livestock. However, Hillman warns, "If your livestock exhibit lesions, blisters or sloughing skin in or around the mouth, nose, teats or hooves, don’t pass it off as VS." Call your private veterinary practitioner or the TAHC so laboratory tests can be run on blood and skin samples from affected animals.

Report downers

Finally, Hillman urged producers to call TAHC to report downer cattle so brain tissue samples may be collected and tested for bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE) for the USDA’s intensive national BSE testing program, which aims to collect and test samples from more than 200,000 head of cattle by late December 2005.

"It can be frightening to look for disease," Hillman said. "But if we don’t, disease can gain a foothold in Texas, and eradication will be extremely costly, and the industry’s market share and reputation could be damaged. If you see something unusual, call your veterinarian, or call the TAHC. Don’t wait until it’s too late."

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