Wolves strike cattle farm again!

Wolf packs have hit herds in Oregon, killing cattle. What if it were true in Michigan? Put that in the context of TB infection of cattle from infected deer and maybe it will change your perception of what should be done to protect cattle herds.

wolves attacking.
Photo from opg.org.

The news this fall from Oregon was about attacks on cattle by a pack of wolves. Some carcasses had “extensive feeding” of the flank, while others were “mostly consumed”. Cattle producers were upset and vocal about it. A quick look on the internet shows stories the previous year from Minnesota of many calves and cows missing or killed by wolves and periodic stories through the years from Idaho, Arizona, Washington and elsewhere.

Imagine the news and the uproar if wolf packs or cougars killed cattle like that in Michigan. In fact, imagine the passionate outcry if the number of herds that lost cattle to these vicious predators reached 73! No doubt, farmers would be on the warpath. Non-farm neighbors would join them, fearful of the consequences on the community. Legislators would be demanding government action and local law enforcement would be engaged.

At the same time, I can imagine the lengths that farmers would go through to protect their herds. Maybe they would organize cougar or wolf hunts, voluntarily enhance the fencing around their herd, bring their cattle closer to the barn and more until the threat was contained or even eliminated.

Why then have we become so complacent about a threat to our cattle herds that exceeds wolf packs or cougars? The threat is from deer. Deer kill cattle! They do so by spreading TB to cattle. Every year dozens to even hundreds of cattle are killed either to diagnose TB-test responders or because of herd infections. To date, there have been 73 cattle herds infected with TB since 1997. Seventy-three times government teams have gone out to survey the damage and see where the threat came from. Instead of protecting our herds from deer, so many choose to live with the threat.

Do we need to see bloody carcasses to recognize the threat? Isn’t it enough that cattle are removed from the herd, never to return? Where is the community in responding to the threat? Have we lost the sense of mutual aid that did so much to advance our communities?

This is not meant to throw wolves or cougars under the proverbial bus. They get a bad enough rap as it is. This article aims to draw a comparison that frankly makes them look like mild-mannered domesticated dogs and cats relative to the threat of TB to cattle herds from deer.

What can you do? The reality is that the population of deer in NE Michigan is increasing. The larger population increases the risk of TB remaining in the wild deer herd. It also reduces the size of deer who have to compete. There will always be deer in NE Michigan, but the population around cattle farms needs to be controlled. The greatest threat to cattle are those deer who become habituated to farms.

Hunting season is certainly the primary means that the population is controlled. In 2017, the estimated hunter harvest of deer in Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle Counties was more than 27,000. However, there are fewer hunters each year.

Beyond hunting season, deer that are a threat to cattle herds need to be removed. The Michigan Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will issue Disease Control Permits (DCPs) as a tool to remove deer from and around farms to reduce the risk of TB transmission to livestock. Those DCPs are valid year-round except during deer hunting seasons.

Landowners in the five-county (Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency, Oscoda and Presque Isle) area can get DCPs to kill deer if they own land adjacent to a cattle or bison operation or if they are cattle or bison producers.

DCP’s may also be issued to owners of other agricultural operations, livestock and non-livestock (e.g. orchards, crop farms), in the 4-county area (Alcona, Alpena, Montmorency and Oscoda) when it is determined by DNR that the property is in close proximity to infected deer or a cattle herd. Non-agricultural landowners may also be eligible in these circumstances as well, as determined by local DNR wildlife staff.

Though much fewer in number than the number harvested by hunters (in 2017 only 587 deer were reported taken using DCPs), the removal of deer using DCPs is targeted at those that are the greatest threat. All DCPs are issued by the DNR and landowners should contact either the Atlanta Field Office (for Alpena, Montmorency and Presque Isle Counties) at 989-785-4251 or the Roscommon Customer Service Center (for Alcona, Crawford and Oscoda Counties) at 989-275-5151.

Those who harvest deer using DCPs must surrender the heads for TB testing and antlers are never returned. The meat may be kept by the landowner or donated to a food bank that accepts deer.

The threat to cattle herds by infected deer is no less important than that of wolves or cougars, though much less dramatic. The need of communities to help manage the threat is an act of mercy for the cattle producers and may also help reduce the prevalence of TB in the wild deer herd by reducing the concentration of deer. Talk with cattle owners in your area. Ask them how you can help, and let them know that you appreciate the hard work they do in producing beef and milk for families. Call the DNR field office about DCPs to see if you are eligible. Together, we can work to have both healthy deer and cattle herds.

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