Alberta ranchers want quick decision on bovine TB quarantine as costs mount
'The CFIA is not very forthcoming in their information so everybody is in a holding pattern'
Alberta ranchers are calling for a quick decision from Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) officials around how long a number of southeast outfits will be under quarantine.
Some 30 ranches near Medicine Hat are under a quarantine order, after a cow traced to a ranch near Jenner — northeast of Brooks — tested positive for bovine tuberculosis at a processing plant in the U.S.
The quarantine — which CFIA officials have said could last months — couldn't have come at a worse time, said Strathmore cattle producer John Bland, as this is when farmers usually sell their calves.
"If you've traditionally sold your cattle or your crop in October, that's when you're geared up to pay your big bills, to plan for the next year, and it could have huge implications if they've got big payments due, be they land payments or anything else."
Instead, farmers have the added expense of feeding their cattle while they're quarantined.
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"If it was spring, the cattle would be going to grass and it wouldn't be so urgent, but most of those guys aren't prepared to wean their calves and winter them at home," he said.
"They don't have a winter feed supply laid in. Most of them are counting on selling their calves at this time of year, so it's a huge inconvenience, and always the fear of the unknown of when is it going to end?"
Another Jenner-area rancher, Dan Osadczuk, says the regulatory processes are far from efficient.
"The CFIA is not very forthcoming in their information so everybody is in a holding pattern," Osadczuk told The Homestretch.
"People had their calves sold but they can't deliver them. People that were going to wean them, you can't, you are not allowed to move them, so we are just sitting and waiting."
Osadczuk says he's been told the CFIA will test his cows next week, about 200 a day, but it doesn't end there.
"They are going to test my cattle next week, but they might not be able to test the reactors — of which there will two to five per cent — for up to a month and then the science says that it can take up to 12 weeks to grow the cultures so I might not know if my cows are healthy or going to be destroyed until February. So you are just feeding them and waiting and you don't know."
CFIA officials have said affected ranchers could be eligible for compensation.
"Several months leaves those people in limbo, financially as well as emotionally," said Bland.
Acme-area rancher Doug Northcott said the fact the cow was traced from a slaughterhouse in the U.S. to a ranch near Medicine Hat shows the system works.
"Traceability is a big thing in my mind," he said.
Delays can cripple an operation
Northcott figures around 350 head of cattle will have to be put down as a result of the quarantine, which can be financially crippling to the operations involved. As such, a decision should be made soon to lessen the impact.
"If that's the decision they're going to make, then let's make it," he said.
"Feeding those cattle at a cost of, depending on the cost of feed, up to $3 a day to keep those cattle, plus labour. To me, it's just a travesty a decision can't be made immediately and compensate this poor guy."
Starting over will also be extremely expensive for those involved.
"The other thing for this poor family, or those quarantined people, if they do dispose of their cattle, then what? They've got to start over," he said.
"They've worked for years, culled their cattle, kept their best cattle, they've spent a lifetime developing the quality of herd they have. You can't go out and buy one back, it doesn't work that way. It's the cost of the feed, the cost of the calves, it's the cost of replacing the herd they have."
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With files from Dave Gilson