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Things to think about regarding feeding/baiting deer

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Hello everyone,

I am a veterinarian. My training includes diseases such as bovine tuberculosis and CWD. My family has a strong tradition of hunting in Minnesota going back to the 1890'S. We can't wait for deer season to open! I am often in discussions with people about feeding and baiting deer.I do not represent the Gov't. or any other organization. In my practice (taking care of pets and cattle) I often find myself talking to others about feeding and baiting. The following are some facts I have learned that I want you to think about. It's a bit long but hopefully helpful. I share these with fellow hunters because we want to work off of facts, not emotions/opinions. You decide for yourself. It's the American way!

First, Tuberculosis has been found in cattle and deer in Minnesota. It is a bacteria that grows slowly. Infected animals spread the disease thru nasal discharges/secretions that either directly contact other animals (nose to nose) or indirectly as discussed below. Recently in Minnesota it was found first in cattle , but the fact remains that infected deer have also been found . The state of Michigan has been struggling with this disease in their deer and cattle for years. So far over $100 million dollars has been spent on government efforts to eradicate the disease in Michigan. Some of this is your federal tax money. Michigan farmers have lost even more, so far an estimated $200 million dollars due to costs associated with tuberculosis. This is not your tax money. This comes directly out of farmers pockets. Due to the serious nature of the disease, if any cow found on a farm has tuberculosis, all the cattle are sent to slaughter. Tuberculosis is self perpetuating in the deer in Michigan. Disease has been reduced but has not been elimated in Michigan. Costs are ongoing. In Minnesota, funds have been and are continuing to be spent on tuberculosis eradication. Your tax dollars. Farmers also are being financially impacted. This is not your tax dollars but comes out of the farmers pockets. Depopulating infected herds is the surest way to keep safe the nation's food supply and protect the rest of the cattle farmers/ranchers, their cattle, and the deer herd. This effort to control and eventually eradicate bovine tuberculosis in the United States was started in 1917. It has been a very long road to get to the point where we are now, with tuberculosis almost eradicated. Agriculture and the government working together have almost eliminated this type of tuberculosis from the United States that was once common in cattle and people.(Note: the vast majority of tuberculosis cases in humans today are caused by a different type of tuberculosis than the one found in cattle and deer. In the past bovine tuberculosis was a common cause of disease in humans.It was contracted via poorly cooked meat and unpasteurized milk. Proper cooking of meat and pastuerization of milk kills bovine tuberculosis, thus don't panic about the food in your refrig.) As such, this issue of tuberculosis has the attention of the our state and federal government as they take necessary steps to continue the effort to eradicate tuberculosis, thus protecting our food supply, farmers means of making a living , cattle AND also our deer herd. Unfortunately, at times this means removal of animals that the farmer/hunter doesn't want to lose. Sometimes this can mean a farmer who has the cattle herd started generations ago by their grandfather or great grandfather could have to watch the entire herd go to slaughter because tuberculosis was found in the herd. Deer herd may be reduced via various means as in NW Minnesota.

Second, prior to 1995 there had been only 8 cases of bovine (cattle) tuberculosis in deer reported throughout North America. Cattle cases had been much higher in the past but now are dramatically lower. In most states bovine tuberculosis doesn't exist. Recently, there has been a tremendous increase in deer cases, even though cattle cases are historically very low. Since 1995 in Michigan there has been 509 cases of tuberculosis in deer. They also have a small elk herd like ours. 4 elk in Michigan have been found infected with tuberculosis. The Minneosta total of recent confirmed and suspect deer tuberculosis cases is not far behind the 8 cases prevoiusly mentioned. Again that 8 cases was the total for all 50 states combined. Deer can be a source for cattle to get infected. Why have cases in deer shot up when cattle cases are way lower than they have been historically?

Third, tuberculosis doesn't need direct contact between animals to spread. A recent research article in the Journal of Wildlife Disease 42(4) 2006 pp.853-858 by Palmer and Whipple found that tuberculosis bacteria can survive at a temp of 73 degrees on corn (shelled corn that commonly is used for feeding deer and cattle), apples, potatoes for at least 3 months! Colder temps such as we have in Minnesota in fall and winter prolong survival times even longer. Bottom line is deer and cattle could potentially get infected from a feeder/bait pile that was visited ONCE by an infected deer 3 MONTHS PREVIOUSLY! The contaminated feeding area can harbor the disease even if the feed/bait is gone. Tuberculosis can spread without direct contact with another animal. This is similar to you eating off a dirty plate that came from the sick ward at the hospital. Even if you put fresh food on the dirty plate, you still could get infected. The smaller the area animals are feeding in, the greater the risk. An interesting finding is that when a feed source has a frozen crust on it, deer break small holes just large enough to get their nose thru to the feed underneath. Deer coming to feed after that deer will put their nose in the same small hole to feed thru, thus increasing risk of infection. This happens even if the feed available is a large pile.

Fourth, we are still learning about CWD. However there is evidence the saliva plays a role. CWD is a much much tougher survivor in the enviroment than tuberculosis.

Hopefully this info will be of help. Farmers and hunters working together will get this problem eliminated. Sorry for the length. Life is busy so I tend to be slow on answering questions. Good info also available from the DNR and Michigan DNR. See www.bah.state.mn.us/diseases/tuberculosis/current_updates.htm and www.dnr.state.mn.us/hunting/deer/tb/index.html. also can look at Michigan website of www.michigan.gov/bovinetb . May you all have a great fall. Don't forget get a kid hooked on hunting this year!!


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