Few Answers Yet In Texas TB Outbreak

Few Answers Yet In Texas TB Outbreak

Investigation and quarantine of the two dairies continue

The two Texas Panhandle dairies which tested positive for cattle tuberculosis (TB) earlier this year are still under investigation and quarantine, says Darren Turley, executive director of the Texas Association of Dairymen (TAD).

Both dairies are owned by the same person, but the owner has not yet been named publicly by the
Texas Animal Health Commissioner’s (TAHC) office. The TB was detected by routine slaughter surveillance of cull cows, TAHC Region 1 (Amarillo) Director David Finch tells Dairy Today.

“Epidemiological investigation is underway at this time to determine possible sources,” Finch says.

All preliminary herd testing for TB has been completed, Turley adds. His organization has remained in close contact with TAHC. In fact, the dairies have gone through a second round of testing, and more reactors were found at one of the dairies. There’s also some trace-back work being done at the dairies’ calf ranch.  

Cows in the affected herds are primarily Holstein with some crossbreds. The two dairies are located about 25 miles apart in a rural area west of Amarillo, Turley says.

The federal indemnity program is available to help the dairy owner with potential financial losses, but the extent of that help will be determined by the epidemiological evaluation, Finch says.
Due to budget cuts, however, Turley has concerns about the availability of indemnity funds. “Federal indemnity dollars are not there anymore,” he says. “The option of a whole-herd buyout would be quite slim.”

Castro County, Texas, where the two dairies are located, is home to 13 dairies and 39,000 dairy cows. The average size of dairy herds in Castro County is 2,500 to 3,000 cows. Finch confirmed only that the two affected operations are “large dairies.”

The Texas Panhandle has seen the state’s greatest dairy growth since the mid-2000s, and it now produces 80% of the state’s milk. Castro County produces about 93 million pounds of milk each year, accounting for 11.35% of the state’s production. USDA has listed Texas as a TB-free status since October 2006.

“The Texas Association of Dairymen is very concerned about the emergence of TB at two Texas dairies and its impact on the entire statewide dairy industry,” Turley says. “Bovine TB is the most serious disease risk faced by the dairy industry because it can impact human health, animal health and marketability.” 

Fear of the Unkown

California dairy producer Steve Maddox has an inkling of what the Castro County, Texas, dairy prod-ucer is likely facing right now. In 2008, bovine tuberculosis (TB) was detected in his father’s dairy herd of registered Holsteins near Riverdale, Calif. Officials eventually tested 15,000 cows on both family dairies, including his own operation because Maddox raised calves for his father. Ultimately, only a single animal was confirmed with TB.

“It’s fear of the unknown,” Maddox says of what the producer might be experiencing. “We had so many questions because we didn’t know the next step—whether we should contract milk or if we would even have a herd the following year.”

Maddox estimates the TB expe-rience cost him millions of dollars, including $2 million in lost revenues in bull sales alone. While he did not have to depopulate his herd, 664 head that were TB suspects did have to be put down. They included 100 head that were classified in the top 2% of the Holstein breed for type. 

“I don’t know how much that set us back genetically,” he says. “They had to trace back sales of 13,000 animals, mostly bulls, over the previous five years. It impacted the whole West Coast.”

The 2008 TB detection stunned Maddox, who thought his dairy was meeting all preventative requirements.

“Despite all our safeguards, previous testing and resisting shortcuts, we still got it,” he says.
Maddox never learned the official cause of the TB detection that cost his herd so much. He suspects it was carried to his dairy by an employee or visitor. He also believes officials in the state and federal agencies that handled the investigation have ideas about its TB origins through their DNA-tested

Maddox says he’s been strongly discouraged by officials from publicizing his suspicions.  What he will say is, “Humans are potential carriers for bovine TB, but that can be turned into a political football.”
There have been concerns Mexico could be a source of TB for both cows and humans in the U.S., particularly in southern border states. One in every five cows in Mexico reportedly tests positive for TB.

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