A handful of ranchers in the Riding Mountain Eradication Area are balking at a provincial bid to use premises identification and ear tags to help with surveillance for bovine tuberculosis — even if it results in less on-farm testing.
Rossburn-area rancher Rodney Checkowski wonders if the actual intent is to drive him and some of his neighbours out of business.
The Canadian Food Inspection Agency is demanding that he test his herd of eight cows this spring, but his insistence that they use a modern blood test rather than the 100-year-old, caudal-fold tuberculin injection method, remains a sticking point.
“It’s crazy as hell. I either test them by May 1 — or I can sell them (before that),” said Checkowski, who has fought the issue for more than two decades and was twice convicted and fined for failing to comply with the CFIA’s testing protocol.
Checkowski said that he has completely lost his trust in the CFIA’s TB surveillance program. As for premises ID, he and other ranchers in the area suspect that it’s just a way to pin blame on the farmer.
“A bunch of us refuse to do it,” said Checkowski. “When I sell a calf, how do they trace it back to me? Maybe it picked (TB) up at the backgrounder, or at the feedlot, or the auction mart.”
Ed Maydaniuk, who ranches just up the road from Checkowski, said that after 30 years of government “incompetence” in the fight to stamp out bovine TB he’s adamant that he won’t comply with the risk assessment program nor will he apply for premises ID for his 30-head cow herd and 15 horses.
“I’ll go to jail, but I won’t do it,” he said, adding that he believes the proposed incentives will be nothing more than “bait money.”
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“I’m not filling out any more crap. They haven’t moved one inch when we’ve requested it,” said Maydaniuk, who estimates that the caudal-fold test and stress from mustering has caused him to lose 56 cattle and horses.
After nearly three decades of TB testing every other year, a confirmed TB positive was never found on his farm.
Maydaniuk is furious that so much money has been spent on things like wages for CFIA staff and chasing and culling elk with helicopters, while those who bear the brunt of surveillance testing receive no mustering fee, and no compensation or veterinary followup for the sick animals and abortions that always seem to appear after each round of TB testing.
“They’re baffled that the little guy is still out here. The risk assessment will give them an eyeful on how to squeeze him a little harder,” he said.
A spokesperson for MAFRD said that there are currently 170 producers in the RMEA who have premises ID, which is a requirement for participation in the newly announced program.
“It’s difficult to know how many farms are not yet participating in the premises ID system,” she said.
Apart from the $150,000 in funding over five years, exact details of the program such as incentives and requirements under the risk assessment program are still being negotiated with Manitoba Beef Producers.
Dr. Glenn Duizer, Manitoba’s acting chief veterinary officer, said that the new program would tie CCIA tag numbers with premises ID data so that the results of routine, nationwide abattoir carcass inspections could be factored into ongoing surveillance in the RMEA.
“As it stands right now, there are hundreds of cattle from the RMEA that go through slaughter inspection with no signs of TB, but the CFIA can’t tie that back to the area because the ability doesn’t exist,” he said.
Ranchers who are deemed to be actively taking steps to mitigate the risk of TB getting into their herds via a risk assessment conducted by MBP staff may be able to demonstrate a decreased need for on-farm testing.
Risk will be based on whether ranchers have adopted preventive measures such as barrier fences around hay supplies, guardian dogs to keep wildlife away, and regular compliance with CFIA surveillance testing.
“Their testing is going to depend on factors around that farm. It’s not going to depend on whether they’ve got premises ID or not,” said Duizer, who added that ultimately, the decision whether to test or not is up to the CFIA.
In a recent press release, Agriculture, Food and Rural Development Minister Ron Kostyshyn acknowledged that Manitoba’s status as a TB-free province comes at a “significant cost” to a relatively small group of producers who have borne the brunt of testing for 12 years.
With the May deadline looming, if Checkowski can’t hire a local vet to do the testing instead, he’s vowed to sell his cattle, and possibly the whole farm, too.
“If I’m forced to sell, I’m out of here,” he said. “But I don’t know who the hell would buy a farm that’s been quarantined four times already and had 23 animals killed on it.”