Many producers in california have to pay $2,300 for replacement heifers, compared to $1,200 to $1,300 a year ago.

Heifer prices are high for a number of reasons. Lots of people want to expand their herds. And a closed border with Canada has had some impact as well.

Prior to the border closure, the U.S. imported roughly 70,000 to 80,000 dairy replacement heifers a year from Canada.  

Recently, the USDA has hinted that it might reopen the border to some Canadian cows, as long as the cows are headed for slaughter. But some of those animals might “somehow slip off the truck” and end up being milked in U.S. dairy herds, points out Chris Galen, spokesman for the National Milk Producers Federation. That, in turn, could undermine public confidence.

Before the border is re-opened to cattle movement, the U.S. and Canada need to step up their efforts to prevent further cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE). All efforts need to be harmonized between the two countries.

  • On Jan. 26, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced that it would move to strengthen existing firewalls against BSE transmission. Yet, as of press time, the FDA has not published any new rules in the Federal Register, so nothing has really changed. According to an article in the April 15 edition of USA Today, the new regulations are tied up in red tape and “almost three months later, the rules have yet to be changed, and potentially dangerous materials can still legally be fed to cows.”
  • In its Jan. 26 announcement, the FDA said it would ban the practice of feeding poultry litter to cattle, along with “plate waste” from restaurants and blood and blood meal products from all mammalian sources. We have not heard a similar pronouncement from Canada — especially as it pertains to blood and blood meal products.
  • Feed mills on both sides of the border must be able to isolate ruminant  from non-ruminant feed lines. Do the mills abide by similar standards?

And, the U.S. needs to develop a national animal identification system that will track the movement of animals. Canada is currently ahead of us in that regard. 

The American public was somewhat forgiving with the first case of BSE that appeared last December. But the public may not be as forgiving the next time around — especially if we haven’t strengthened the firewalls and improved our ability to track and verify the movement of animals. Remember, USDA officials scrambled for weeks to find all 81 of the animals that entered the U.S. from Canada with the BSE-infected cow. By Feb. 9, they had only conclusively found 28, or one-third, of the suspect animals.  

Until the system is tightened up further, the Canadian border should remain closed to all live-animal imports.