MDOL holds meeting on brucellosis rule

The Montana Department of Livestock is seeking public comment on a proposal to make permanent some provisions for monitoring brucellosis in southwest and south central Montana.

The MDOL is holding its last public meeting concerning a draft administrative rule that will codify a board of livestock order establishing a brucellosis designated surveillance area. The meeting will be held at the Madison County Fairgrounds in Twin Bridges at 3 p.m. Nov. 23.

The designated surveillance area was established in January after its predecessor, the Brucellosis Action Plan expired, said Steve Merritt, spokesman for the Department of Livestock.

The Brucellosis Action Plan was implemented after two cases of brucellosis were found in Montana cattle within a 12-month period between 2007 and 2008. The two positive cases cost Montana its brucellosis free status.

Brucellosis is a bacteria-caused disease that causes abortions in cattle, elk and bison. It can be transmitted from animal to animal through contact with afterbirth or aborted calves. The disease is known to occur in elk and bison herds in Yellowstone National Park.

Once Montana lost it brucellosis free status, the MDOL wanted to do what was necessary to protect the Montana cattle industry, Merritt said.

“Other states that buy our cattle, and almost all of our cattle go out of state, they want to be assured that we’re doing everything we can to keep the brucellosis risk at a minimum,” he said.

One of the techniques to address the problem was to create the designated surveillance area around the north and west borders of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. This area encompasses portions of four counties – Madison, Gallatin, Park and Beaverhead. The brucellosis action plan area is larger and also includes Sweet Grass, Stillwater and Carbon counties.

Under the MDOL order, ranchers in the DSA have to go through a variety of steps to ensure their cattle are free of brucellosis, including blood testing and vaccinations.

Under the draft rule calves must be vaccinated and all sexually intact cattle over a year old within the DSA must be tagged with their own number. Additionally, the draft rule outlines testing procedures, including having all sexually intact cattle over a year old tested annually and “within 30 days prior to movement out of the DSA or change of ownership, unless that movement is to an approved Montana livestock market or directly to a slaughter facility that will test upon arrival.”

The DSA was established by an MDOL order in January to essentially begin the process of drafting the official administrative order, Merritt said.

“Getting it enacted quickly was pretty important,” he said.

However, the brucellosis requirements are cumbersome and costly for local cattle producers, said Alder rancher Ellis Boyd.

The DSA boundary bisects Madison County and includes everything south and east of Highway 84 from the Gallatin County line to Norris and then along U.S. 287 to Ennis, then along Montana Highway 287 from Ennis to Alder and then along the upper Ruby Road south from Alder to the Beaverhead County line.

Boyd’s home is about 350 yards from the DSA boundary and that means he has to follow all the testing procedures.

But making it even tougher is the confusing rules they have to follow, he said.

Since Boyd is in a low-risk portion of the DSA, he only has to have his cattle blood tested once every three years.

However, this year he was loading cattle he sold when the MDOL brand inspector told him they had to be tested before they left.

“The worst of it is they don’t let the people within the DSA know what the rules are,” Boyd said.

He understands why they want to put the area around Yellowstone National Park under a different designation, but the rules the MDOL have implemented seem to lack some common sense and are onerous on producers.

Last year he had his herd blood tested and the process meant he couldn’t take advantage of his fall pasture, which meant he had to spend more money feeding his cattle hay.

The state does help pay for the blood tests, but he figures between the manpower and effort it still costs him about $4 a head for the tests.

The vaccinations he pays for himself at about $2.50 to $5 a head.

Another struggle is missed opportunities to sell his cattle, Boyd said.

For instance he has some heifer calves he’d like to sell at a sale coming up in Three Forks, but he can’t because they aren’t vaccinated yet and haven’t had a blood test.

“If I lived on the other side of the highway, I wouldn’t have do that, I’d just have to haul them to town,” he said.

Boyd’s not optimistic that Tuesday’s meeting will provide many answers or solutions. The DSA seems to be becoming a permanent feature in the Montana cattle industry and the MDOL is not likely to change course, he said.

“It’s an informational meeting and they don’t care about what our input is really,” Boyd said. “I guess we have to pay a price for living in a pretty spot in Montana.”

The MDOL will take public comment at the meeting, Merritt said.

The outline for the meeting will include a presentation by Montana state veterinarian Marty Zaluski and he’ll answer questions about the draft rule and take public comment.

“Their comments will be recorded,” Merritt said.

All comments on the draft rule must be submitted by Nov. 29. For more information about the rule or for questions, contact the MDOL at 444-9431 or go online to liv.mt.gov. Comments can also be mailed to DSA Comments, Montana Department of Livestock, Helena, MT 59620-2001.

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