Texas livestock health officials will randomly select nearly 2,000 of the state’s purebred or seed stock beef herds for cattle tuberculosis (TB) testing this summer, to fulfill disease surveillance obligations of the Texas Cattle TB plan. The blueprint for regaining Texas’ TB-free status was developed in 2002 by cattle industry representatives, with a recommendation for the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC) to implement a TB testing effort. The plan calls for TB testing all of the state’s 811 dairies and about 2,400 purebred or seed stock beef herds. Dairy herd testing has been completed, but only about 500 owners of purebred or seed stock beef herds have volunteered their herd for a test. Federal funds for herd testing "expire" Oct. 1, so the TAHC is tackling the problem with a high-tech version of drawing names from a hat.

"In early March, we reconvened the Texas TB Task Force, which included leaders from the purebred cattle industry, to determine how to get herds tested and meet the agreement made with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which has funded the plan," said Dr. Bob Hillman, Texas’ state veterinarian and executive director of the TAHC, the state’s livestock and poultry health regulatory agency. "Random selection of herds was seen as the most equitable way to complete a statistically valid disease surveillance of purebred and seed stock cattle herds. By mid-April, a computer program will pick names from a database listing purebred and seed stock producers. We then will contact the ranchers to line up the test that will be conducted by private veterinarians at no cost to the herd owner."

"We will try to accommodate ranchers’ schedules, and if an owner wants to volunteer their cattle for TB testing, we welcome their participation," he said. "No herd is too small for testing." Dr. Hillman said more than 500 private veterinary practitioners in Texas have completed additional TB training and are on contract with the TAHC to conduct herd tests. To volunteer herds for a test, locate a contract veterinarian, or obtain information, ranchers should contact their local TAHC area office or the TAHC headquarters in Austin at 1-800-550-8242.

Dr. Hillman explained that dairies, purebred and seed stock beef herds were targeted for testing, because, during the past 22 years, TB has been detected in 15 Texas dairies and six purebred cattle herds in nine counties, including El Paso, Karnes, Comanche, Pecos, Uvalde, Fayette, Culberson, Grayson, Zavala and Hamilton counties. Dr. Hillman stressed that dairy and purebred beef cattle are no more susceptible to TB than commercial cattle, but they usually are maintained in more confined conditions, which are conducive to TB transmission. He pointed out that milk from the dairies is safe, as pasteurization, or heat treatment, kills the bacteria. Meat also is safe, as carcasses are inspected for wholesomeness at slaughter, and cooking meat also kills bacteria.

In 2000, Texas gained cattle TB-free status, with the exception of the El Paso Milk Shed, where dairies with low levels of recurring infection were still present. In 2002, USDA pulled Texas’ ‘free’ status, after two infected herds were detected and depopulated, explained Dr. Hillman. A third TB-infected herd was detected and depopulated shortly afterward. During the statewide dairy testing, which involved more than 335,000 head, an infected herd was identified in Hamilton County and was depopulated in 2004.

"Completing the disease surveillance of the purebred and seed stock beef herds is extremely important," stressed Dr. Hillman. "It will allow Texas to fulfill its agreement with the USDA and states that receive Texas cattle. We can then move forward to regain TB-free status and avoid interstate movement restrictions on Texas cattle. Secondly, it will provide Texas ranchers the assurance that there is no undetected infection in these valuable herds."

Dr. Hillman said other segments of the TB plan are ongoing and include:

  • testing dairy and breeding cattle being moved from Texas
  • improved slaughter inspection by USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS)
  • requiring yearly TB tests on roping steers imported from Mexico
  • continuing work with Mexican states on TB control and eradication.

"Cattle TB is not a disease we can learn to ‘live with,’" stressed Dr. Hillman. "The contagious TB bacteria can cause cattle to develop internal lesions, and in rare instances, can cause human illness. Regaining cattle TB-free status must be a priority. In Texas, 2,000 ranchers will make a profound difference by completing this disease surveillance effort."