Alberta, Saskatchewan ranchers brace for impact of bovine TB cull and quarantine

Farmers from nearly 50 ranches in Alberta and Saskatchewan are wondering what kind of compensation and business lies ahead for them as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency cracks down on a bovine tuberculosis outbreak in Western Canada.

Food inspection agency puts 26,000 cattle under quarantine and expects 10,000 of them to be killed

Some of the remaining cattle on Brad Osadczuk's ranch in Jenner, Alberta. More than 2,400 of his animals will be killed in the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's bovine tuberculosis-related cull. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Farmers from nearly 50 ranches in Alberta and Saskatchewan are wondering what kind of compensation and business lies ahead for them as the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) cracks down on a bovine tuberculosis outbreak in Western Canada.

In late September, the CFIA discovered a cow with bovine tuberculosis linked to Brad Osadczuk's ranch in Jenner, Alta., and launched an investigation which confirmed five other cases tied to his herd.

It placed his entire operation under quarantine.

"At this point all 1,200 of our cows, 1,200 calves and 53 bulls are all going to be destroyed," Osadczuk said.

Brad and Elaine Osadczuk say they fully agree with the CFIA's need to ensure Canadian beef remains healthy and viable for trade, but they hope they and other ranchers will be compensated adequately for their losses. (Colin Hall/CBC )

His family is hardly alone. Since September, the CFIA has placed nearly 26,000 cattle in more than 40 herds across Alberta and Saskatchewan under quarantine. Among them, 10,000 are to be destroyed.

Roots of disease unclear

The agency's chief veterinarian, Harpreet Kochhar, said the steps it has been taking are necessary in order to make sure the infection does not spread further.

He said the positive cases so far were present at community pastures where the originally infected cow had been grazing.

"We're continuing to do the testing and processing," he said, "… which means the number of farms under quarantine may increase and the number of animals under quarantine may increase."

Ten thousand cattle are to be killed because they may have had some point of contact with the six infected cases so far.

Completing the testing for the remaining 12,000 could take months.

Dr. Harpreet Kochhar, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency's chief veterinarian, says it is still trying to determine where this strain of bovine tuberculosis originated. (Victor Modderma/CBC)

The CFIA is also trying to determine where exactly this strain of bovine TB originated. Kochhar said the one found in the first cow linked to the Osadczuk property matched another strain in central Mexico in 1997.

"That meant this case is not indigenous to Canada so we haven't seen this kind of infection in Canadian cattle or any kind of wildlife population which might have been infected by tuberculosis," he said.

He also said farmers whose cows are killed will be fairly compensated for their losses.

In fact, at the end of November, shortly after Osadczuk appeared before a Parliamentary committee, the federal government earmarked $16.7 million in financial assistance for the Alberta and Saskatchewan farmers whose cattle have been placed under quarantine.

More than simply a business

The Osadczuks have no illusions about the importance of making sure Canadian beef remains safe for trade and consumption.

"We have world-class beef, we want to keep it that way," said Elaine, Brad's wife.

But she also acknowledged how difficult it's been to keep the ranch operation going. "You look at your bank statement and your ranch is run on overdraft, right? … Now they took away our livelihood, how are we going to pay those bills?"

And, of course, it's not just about the numbers for the Osadczuks. They have been cattle-ranching since Brad's grandfather started a ranch at 17 years old. "Our cow herds have been in the family for generations," he said. "We just don't replace that overnight; it's going to take years."

He's hoping that Ottawa's emergency assistance fund and the CFIA's compensation package will be enough to see him and other ranchers through.

In the meantime, on top of the hardships, there's suspense.

On the same day CBC News visited Brad Osadczuk, his cousin, Nolan Osadczuk, was expecting trucks to show up and round up 240 calves from his father's herd for destruction.

Nolan Osadczuk says his parents are living in suspense as they wait to find out whether or not about 240 of their cattle will have to be culled. (Colin Hall/CBC)

Instead, he got a cryptic phone call from the CFIA. 

"We might be able to save your calves," Nolan Osadczuk said he was told.

Two days later, he got another message from the CFIA. The calves would have to be destroyed.

Community support

The Osadczuks are finding hope in how all affected ranchers have been shouldering each others' burdens.

"Our phone rings," said Elaine, "and it's just people offering their kind words or they're offering their feed and you know they're asking what can we do to help you?

"Everyone's sticking together."

Much of their cattle may be gone outside, but in their living room everything looks as it should for this time of year.

The evergreen is there, all decorated, and six red and green stockings hang over the fireplace: one for Brad, another for his wife, three for their three daughters, and one for the family cat.