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Pinedale – The Governor’s Brucellosis Coordination Team (BCT) met in Pinedale April 18, as it has for a number of springtimes, to discuss updates and research for brucellosis and other animal diseases.

Gov. Dave Freudenthal created the BCT and named people from across the state to its task force in 2004, to focus on regaining Wyoming’s federal brucellosis-free status. Then, as now, Frank Galey, dean of University of Wyoming’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, chairs the semi-annual meetings.

Health updates

The April 18 meeting kicked off with Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan addressing the Wyoming Livestock Board’s (WLSB) budget cuts.

He said, “WLSB voluntarily made some cuts in brucellosis appropriation,” but he believed enough remains to cover program costs.

Logan also reported WLSB and USDA are working together to deal with “traces” of tuberculosis (TB) from a South Dakota cattle herd.

“We do not have a case of TB in Wyoming, but we do have traces related to a herd in South Dakota,” Logan said.

That herd included some cattle bought in Wyoming, and later, 86 heifers were sold back into Wyoming. The agencies’ epidemiology has tracked almost all of those heifers. Some exposed in South Dakota were slaughtered, but tests showed they did not have TB, he added.

“It looks like we dodged a big bullet in Wyoming,” Logan said. “It’s the first significant issue we’ve had with TB since I’ve been the state vet.”

Veterinarian Bill Williams asked Logan about lobbying North and South Dakota about those states’ brucellosis rules from Wyoming’s designated surveillance area (DSA).

“To me, South Dakota is just sitting there on a pedestal,” he said. “They’ve got TB, they’ve got trich, and it’s like they’re sitting there on a pedestal. We have a few seropositive elk.”

Logan said he plans to inform other western state veterinarians about the facts relative to brucellosis at an upcoming conference.

Herd plans

The BCT also discussed Wyoming and USDA’s acceptance of herd plans and risk assessments in the DSA, noting Idaho, Montana and Wyoming “have very similar protocols.”

  Montana State Veterinarian Eric Liska, who attended, was asked to talk about how the state deals with its DSA.

“Our approach is just a little different,” Liska said. “The risk is that producers are using ground in the DSA. If producers utilize ground in the DSA, they’re at risk for brucellosis, period. Because of that approach with us, there is no risk assessment – the risk is having cattle there.”

Wyoming’s Big Horn and Sheridan counties, where a handful of seropositive elk have been found, are not in the DSA. Elk and bison can carry and transmit brucellosis to domestic cattle, which has brought about numerous studies by the University of Wyoming (UW).

Testing improvements

UW researcher Noah Hull described his team’s tests and experiments to lower false seropositive results with blood tests.

Wildlife managers at the Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) are also carrying out numerous tests and studies.

WGFD Director Scott Talbott predicted budget cuts would leave the agency short, especially with wolf management recently transferred into state hands.

WGFD biologists from across the state, including Brandon Scurlock from Pinedale, fully outlined current studies and data about seropositive elk, brucellosis, feedground management, habitats and migration routes.

At the end, Galey asked BCT members if they wanted to continue meeting annually. The group agreed they would like to continue meeting once a year, preferably in June when Talbott and WGFD biologists have their data from the previous fall and winter.

Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and reporter for the Sublette Examiner and Pinedale Roundup. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

During their Sept. 15 meeting, the Wyoming Livestock Board (WLSB) passed changes to their Chapter Two rules related to brucellosis testing. The new rules changes the age requirement for all heifers for testing from 18 months of age to 12 months of age.

“We really want producers to understand and know about these changes, so they’ll be ready to comply with them after the first of the year,” said Wyoming State Veterinarian Jim Logan.

The rules were signed into effect by Gov. Matt Mead on Oct. 31 and went into effect on Jan. 1.

Rule clarification

The new Chapter Two rules state that all sexually intact female cattle and bison 12 months of age and over must have a negative brucellosis test within 30 days prior to moving or changing ownership between the dates of Feb. 1 and July 31. From Aug. 1 to Jan. 31, any negative test is valid until the end of the time period.

The rules further clarify the age for testing stating, “Heifers born during the previous calendar year and shipped after Aug. 1 of their yearling year shall be tested for brucellosis.”

Logan says, “The key change is the definition of test-eligible bovinae, which is cattle and bison.”

“The previous definition of test-eligible females were those 18 months of age and over,” he explains. “It also previously included visibly pregnant or post-parturient bovinae. Now, it simply says all sexually intact female cattle 12 months of age and over.”

Impetus for change

The rules were amended following the discovery of brucellosis last fall in a herd in Sublette County.

“We recognized that the old rule did not adequately cover heifers that may have been exposed to a bull during the breeding season and yet might be sold as feeders while less than 18 months of age that could have been a brucellosis transmission risk,” Logan says. “During the epidemiologic investigation of the case in Sublette County, a potential loophole in the rule was identified, so the Board voted to change the rule to include testing any heifer or sexually intact female 12 months of age and over.” 

Taking comments

The rules were out for comment during the summer, and Logan noted that both brand inspectors and producers mentioned that requiring brucellosis tests for yearling heifers was vague, especially when looking at a group of heifers in June or July, wondering whether they are 12 months of age or not.

“The Board decided to include in the section about test requirements that heifers shipped after Aug. 1 of their yearling year shall be tested prior to movement from the DSA or change of ownership,” Logan explains.

Additionally, the validity of the test varies based on date of movement.

“Any brucellosis test between Aug. 1 and Jan. 31 is valid until Jan. 31. From Feb. 1 to July 31, tests have to be done within 30 days for movement or change of ownership,” Logan says, noting that the change of dates relates to the risk of exposure during the elk or bison abortion or calving season.

Impacts

Logan notes that he does not believe the new test requirements will affect a greater number of producers that were not testing for brucellosis before. However, he believes more cattle will be encompassed in the increased test requirements.

“This change will encompass quite a few more cattle than what were tested before,” he explains. “That leaves me with a little bit of concern about how much more this costs the budget.”

Logan notes that, despite increased costs, the rule change should help to prevent potential brucellosis spread.

Veterinarians who test cattle are compensated five dollars per head, which could impact budgets. Additionally, veterinarians at sale barns are paid, and the sale barn is compensated if they provide the crew to help work cattle.

“Our expenses will probably be slightly higher, but these changes should help to prevent a wreck from occurring,” Logan comments.

Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, and Emilee Gibb, editor, contributed to this article. Send comments to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Washington, D.C. – In February 1996, USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) licensed the Brucella abortus strain RB51 vaccine for use in cattle to reduce the prevalence of brucellosis, eventually replacing the use of the Brucella abortus strain 19 vaccine in the United States.

“Strain 19 is not a bad vaccine. It gave very good protection, but it produces antibodies that screw up the virology and, long-term, makes it very hard to eradicate the disease,” noted Gerhardt Schurig.

Shurig, an immunology professor in the Department of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, presented some of the challenges of developing the RB51 vaccine on Nov. 11 in Washington, D.C. at the Revisiting Brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area meeting, hosted by the National Academy of Sciences.

Different strains

“When I started the research, I wanted to find out what characteristics would make a better vaccine,” he explained.

There are two basic morphological forms of Brucella bacteria, a smooth form and a rough form. Strain 19 is composed of a smooth strain, which creates challenges related to antibody production and diagnostic testing for brucellosis.

“This point is important because we immediately began to think about using rough organisms, but how to select those rough organisms is where things became complicated,” he said.

The strain that is chosen must be attenuated, or weakened, so that it can be potentially administered to animals of any age.

“We don’t want to expose people to a disease if they are using a vaccine, and we certainly don’t want animals spreading the disease,” Schruig noted.

The Brucella strain also has to be stable and suitable for booster vaccines.

“It needs to be inexpensive and easy to administer as well,” he added.

Research

In 1979, Schurig and his team began developing tools to select for desired Brucella strains, and in 1982, they presented positive findings for a potential vaccine at a conference in Baton Rouge, La.

“From 1980 to 1996, there were basically 16 years between having the strain and applying it. It takes a long time to have something approved,” he commented.

Now, scientists are trying to improve the efficacy of the vaccine by modifying how antigen qualities are expressed by the RB51 Brucella strain.

“There are many antigens that have been described as having protective qualities against Brucella, but are they the correct ones to use in a particular species? I think that is a very important question,” Schruig said.

Ongoing exploration

In mice, scientists are seeing positive results, but cattle or bison may exhibit different responses to the same vaccine.

“We have to run those experiments, and that is where we get into trouble. It is now so expensive, and the regulatory things are so complicated, one kind of throws their arms up,” Schruig remarked.

Scientists are also interested in how RB51 impacts tuberculosis (TB). Along with modifying for increased protection against Brucella, Schruig and his team are hoping to create a strain that protects against TB as well.

“I think the concept is really valid,” he stated. “We believe we have the strain to protect against both, and now we have to test it.”

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Pinedale – Wyoming’s Brucellosis Coordination Team (BCT) discussed a number of possible means to reduce the disease’s transmission between elk and cattle at its April 13 meeting in Pinedale.

Research projects, affected herd updates, budget crunches and new data were shared by Wyoming, Montana and Idaho agencies, and the daylong meeting closed with a call for the BCT to move forward.

Studies and updates

Montana State Vet Eric Liske presented study updates, as did its wildlife agency, and Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WGFD) biologists presented data from elk hunters’ surveillance and GPS studies in Wyoming.

A research project led by University of Wyoming’s Noah Hull brought exciting news that a test is getting closer to being able to distinguish former vaccine Strain 19 titers from the actual disease.

Strain 19 was found to be very effective for cattle but also produced “false positives” in blood tests, so it was dropped. Finding a reliable vaccine and improved tests are high on the list of accomplishments the BCT encouraged.

BMAPs

A top recommendation from the Governor’s Brucellosis Coordination Team was for WGFD to update its brucellosis management action plans (BMAPs), according to WGFD Brucellosis Program Supervisor Brandon Scurlock, who released the top 10 at a public meeting March 24 in Pinedale.

“We met with producers and partners in late December and asked how to better reduce transmission from elk to cattle and elk to elk,” he said.

Those comments were integrated into the BMAPs that Scurlock presented at the BCT’s April 13 meeting in Pinedale.

The 10 elements are feedground locations, elk population reduction, feedground phase-out, reducing feed season length, habitat enhancement, fencing, acquisitions and easements, test and slaughter, vaccine investigation and mapping areas of brucellosis risk.

Options

Infected cow elk miscarriages or abortions peak in March, April and May, which overlaps with concentrated elk feeding to keep elk from mixing with livestock. At several feedgrounds, seasons are shortened and hay is scattered for low-density feeding. Another tool is allowing scavengers to clean up the feedgrounds.

Elk are traditionally fed on one or two long lines that create hotspots for brucellosis transmission, he said. Fed farther apart in a checkerboard pattern, studies show elk contact with fetuses can drop by 75 percent. However, some sites are not suited for change.

Moving feedgrounds could influence behavioral changes and reduce transmission risks. However, brucellosis would still persist.

Feedground phase-out could increase elk-to-cattle brucellosis transmission in the long run, he said. Starting to feed late or ending early might reduce transmission, be fairly cost-effective and keep elk population objectives, or it might increase commingling during prime transmission.

Assessments

The Dell Creek and McNeel feedgrounds near Bondurant aren’t managed for end dates due to adjacent livestock herds.

Habitat enhancement could reduce seroprevalence where elk have access to more forage. Land acquisition, easements and fencing secure habitat and reduce commingling but are expensive and rely on landowners’ cooperation.

Test and slaughter, used from 2006 to 2010 to slaughter elk testing seropositive for brucellosis, worked until several years after it ended, but then seroprevalence spiked again.

New vaccines, vaccine delivery, better field tests and contraceptives are always under study.

The BMAP’s final action suggests mapping brucellosis risk. The BCT asked WGFD to update feedground herds’ seasonal ranges and GPS data showing biologists where elk are during major brucellosis transmission season could be used to make risk maps.

Using tools

Bousman suggested different BMAP tools might reduce transmission risks at feedgrounds near cattle producers.

Sommers agreed, saying, “Everyone’s situation is different.”

After Scurlock shared draft BMAPs, the BCT board discussed them at length. He noted difficulties with phasing out feedgrounds and said this is the first winter WGFD did not vaccinate elk with Strain 19.

Scurlock’s data-driven map of GPS locations for elk in February through June and March through May could be used for “risk assessment maps” for land managers, producers and agencies. The draft will be finalized by the BCT’s November meeting.

“I fully believe we need to look at risk assessment,” Sommers said. “If we look at feedgrounds, a handful are probably higher risk than others.”

Feedground activity

BCT member Terry Pollard stated, many feel closing elk feedgrounds would have “devastating effects on a lot of people.”

“What about moving feedgrounds away from the high-risk areas?” Price asked.

Sommers suggested perhaps one feedground could be moved and another could be used for test-and-slaughter.

“We need to prioritize the feedgrounds, do a risk assessment on each one,” he said. “If we ever really want to move the needle on this, rather than just having meetings every six months, we’re going to have to do some really hard work, get in there, and see if there’s any project we can use to reduce high risks…and then look at the options.”

“I think we need to keep our eye on different tools,” said University of Wyoming College of Agriculture and Natural Resources Dean Frank Galey. “Concentrating on risk assessment would probably be worthwhile. Otherwise, like Albert said, we’re just spinning our wheels.”

Jessica Crowder, representing Gov. Matt Mead, agreed with the need for the BCT to get more involved in reducing transmission risks.

“I want to say I appreciate this discussion about moving the needle,” she said, “and I think that will be appreciated by the Governor as well.”

Joy Ufford is a correspondent for the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and editor of the Sublette Examiner. Send comments on this article to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Jackson – As an economist, Dannele Peck guides her brucellosis research by asking how economically acceptable the prevalence of the disease is in a given area. The goal, she maintains, is to determine which combination of management tools will achieve and maintain an optimal level as cheaply as possible.

“To do that, we have to figure out how costly the disease is, how costly the potential management tools are and how effective they are,” stated Peck, a University of Wyoming associate professor in the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics, at the Sept. 16 meeting of a National Academy of Sciences committee reviewing brucellosis in the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA).

Peck added that disease managers should also consider whether efforts are focused on elk or cattle and what factors may affect the spread of the disease.

“How costly is a case of brucellosis in a cattle herd?” she asked. “As a good economist, I will say that it depends.”

The size of the herd, the number of affected animals, the need for depopulation versus quarantine and the timeline for quarantine are all factors that can affect the cost of an outbreak.

Evaluating an outbreak

Using some averages and assumptions, Peck and her team estimated that a brucellosis outbreak would cost approximately $192 per head over a 12-month period.

“We have to understand how costly our management activities are,” she continued. “We don’t want to spend $15,000 to solve a $14,000 problem.”

To evaluate various management techniques, Peck and her team of graduate students determined the annualized costs of certain tools and compared them to the financial loss of a brucellosis outbreak.

Citing an example data set for a high-risk herd, Peck commented, “Something like an adult booster vaccination is cheap enough that it doesn’t have to very effective to be worthwhile. It only needs to eliminate five percent of the cost of an outbreak to pay for itself.”

In the same example, delayed grazing would have to be so effective that it eliminated an impossible 104 percent of the brucellosis cost.

Therefore, she concluded that a vaccination may be a potential solution, but delayed grazing would not be economically beneficial in that situation.

Value of tools

“When we have lower risk and there is less at stake, we are not going to be willing to invest as much in brucellosis management,” Peck continued.

Fencing haystacks, asking the Wyoming Game and Fish Department to haze elk and using adult booster vaccinations may still have some value in high-risk herds, while spaying heifers, using alternative feed schedules and hiring a rider to haze elk may become less economically viable when risk is reduced.

To compare finances for investing in particular tools, Peck remarked, “We could put that money away each year so by the time an outbreak hits, we have saved up the difference.”

Along with more typical management tools, Peck’s team also investigated fencing winter feedgrounds and running stocker operations.

Due to high labor costs, Peck stated, “Elk-proof fencing costs $95,000 to $100,000 per mile.”

Fencing also raises other concerns about neighboring operations and important wildlife migration routes.

Stocker operations

“What if we got rid of reproductive cattle in the GYA?” questioned Peck.

Her team revealed that stockers are generally 50 percent less profitable than cow/calf/yearling operations.

“We would be asking producers to trade their brucellosis risk problem for what is probably a much larger financial risk problem. Producers are managing many other sources of risk,” she said.

The cost of a brucellosis outbreak and the costs of management tools vary by ranch, by year and by prices.

“It’s a very individualized situation. If we know the characteristics of a ranch, we can help narrow down the list of tools that might be economically worthwhile,” she remarked.

Researchers are learning more about how brucellosis is spread and what management tools may be effective, but Peck emphasizes the financial constraints of producers.

“We can’t forget our major economic questions,” she said.

Natasha Wheeler is editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..