Minnesota Cattle TB Restrictions Over, Opening National Markets

Brake, with Magnus and Hamilton

Minnesota cattle producers faced six emotional and financially challenging years, but now they celebrate a re-opening of markets nationwide after the state has been declared free of bovine tuberculosis.

Gov. Mark Dayton Wednesday issued a proclamation proclaiming TB free day for the state’s cattle industry after 58 herds were destroyed and 800,000 animals tested.

The TB battle began in 2005 when a northwestern Minnesota cattleman reported that one of his cattle headed to slaughter appeared sick. Tests showed it had TB and started six years of hardships that stretched to cattle producers across Minnesota.

The United States Department of Agriculture declared the state as being free of TB two months ago, but it was not until Wednesday when agriculture leaders and politicians gathered at the Capitol to celebrate the news. Most important to them is the ability to sell cattle nationwide.

Cattleman Don Schiefelbein of Kimball said the TB discovery “restricted the states we can travel,” which cut marketing possibilities.

No one knows how much cattlemen or the state lost financially when other states refused to accept Minnesota cattle.

They also do not know how many head of cattle were killed to prevent TB from spreading, but State Veterinarian Dr. Bill Hartmann said 58 herds ranging from 25 to 550 head were destroyed.

“We have eliminated it from the U.S. for the most part,” Hartmann said, and now Minnesota is officially on the TB free list.

Hartmann said the TB fight was emotional. He told of the first farmer who had to sacrifice his herd.

The farmer mounted his horse and “rode out to the pasture on his place and there were tears in his eyes,” Hartmann said.

Other cattle producers at Wednesday’s celebration understood what that first farmer went through.

Steve Brake of Wilmont, in southwestern Minnesota, said a cattle producer spends every day with his herd. “You know how that cow reacts, every single one of them. … All of a sudden, the next day, they are gone.”

The Board of Animal Health member said it is a relief that he no longer needs to worry about TB.

Schiefelbein, Minnesota Cattlemen Association president and a central Minnesota farmer, praised state and federal government officials for working together in the TB battle.

The state spent more than $14 million on the fight, in a large part to compensate farmers who needed to destroy their herds, with Minnesota cattle producers contributing nearly $1 million.

“When you have a tragedy like this, you have to got to step up,” said Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, the Senate agriculture chairman.

Minnesota’s TB fight was so successful, the senator said, that “other states are copying it.”

Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake and House ag chairman, said politicians and agriculture groups have a long history of working together to fight problems, including pseudorabies that affected hog producers a few years ago.

Rural lawmakers banded together to work the issue, convincing urban and suburban legislators of the need for immediate action, Sen. Rod Skoe, DFL-Clearbrook, said.

Even if farmers were paid for the loss of their herds, Skoe said that an impact lingers. Farmers received compensation for destroying their herds, but not the loss of calves those herds would have produced.

“The calves are his crop,” potato farmer Skoe said of a cattle producer, and when the herd disappeared, so did the next year’s income.

One of the reasons for the restrictions was that bovine TB can spread to humans.

Hartmann said the state now requires permits for cattle to come into the state, especially those from Mexico and those involved in rodeos because they may have a higher possibility of carrying TB.