For almost 25 years, we have been working to eradicate bovine tuberculosis (TB) from Michigan’s northeastern Lower Peninsula (LP). While bovine TB remains a worldwide issue, the U.S. has seen very little bovine TB since the late 1970s, apart from Michigan’s northeastern LP. It has infected more than 60 cattle herds in this area, where the disease has a natural reservoir in free-ranging white-tailed deer. The Michigan departments of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD) and Natural Resources (DNR) have been battling this problem together, under the oversight of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Unfortunately, the disease still exists, despite much work by agency staff, farmers, hunters, and others. In fact, in 2016 and 2017, Michigan exceeded the number of infected cattle herds permitted by our agreement with the USDA. This caused the USDA to call into question the effectiveness of Michigan’s TB Program and propose downgrading our status. A downgrade in status would decimate the cattle industry in the northeastern LP, impacting the entire state, and costing the industry and taxpayers millions of dollars. If Michigan is fortunate, we may escape a downgrade this time; however, USDA may take more drastic steps in the future.
With that said, MDARD, with the support of the DNR, recently approved a new zoning order, updating Michigan’s cattle regulations. These updates create new wildlife biosecurity strategies that farmers will have to implement to minimize the risk of bovine TB affecting their herds.
These efforts also are being combined with DNR initiatives to manage deer numbers and bovine TB in the free-ranging deer herd. While the disease trends in the center of the northeastern LP (DMU 452) have fluctuated over the past 10 years, there was a significant increase in the number of bovine TB positive deer adjacent to this area in 2017. In fact, the apparent prevalence of bovine TB outside of DMU452 is now the highest detected since 1995.
Considering the risk of deer activity around farms, two targeted efforts are being implemented by the new zoning order to further protect the cattle industry. These efforts are focused on protecting cattle farms in the highest risk area, a newly designated area called the Enhanced Wildlife Biosecurity (EWB) area, which is located at the core of the Modified Accredited Zone (MAZ) and encompasses DMU 452. In this area, farmers will work with a team of experts to create customized wildlife biosecurity plans based on identified risk factors on their farms.
A complementary effort is focused on deer that have made farms—barns, pastures, and other cattle areas—their home. This problem was identified by a USDA National Wildlife Research Center study that found that deer on farms are extremely bold—even going so far as to slip into unclosed gates and learning a farmer’s habits to access high quality feeds, like silage. The only viable way to protect a farm from these resident deer is to remove them and then implement strategies to discourage future deer from taking on this habit.
To sell cattle outside of slaughter channels, cattle producers in the EWB area will now be required to participate in both efforts. As neighbors see more fences go up to exclude deer from feed and cattle areas, it may appear that these measures are extreme. However, at this point, the survival of Michigan’s cattle industry is dependent on effective change.
USDA will no longer accept increasing numbers of infections in cattle herds. Maintaining a viable cattle industry will require increased vigilance and participation of cattle producers in the EWB area; and cattle producers and hunters across the state need to be aware of the sacrifice these farmers are making. Above all, we must work together to protect both cattle and deer from bovine tuberculosis to ensure healthy farms, healthy wildlife, and a healthy economy in Michigan.