Rancher to Rancher interview with Brad Osadczuk by Maggie Nutter about learning from Bovine TB discovery on his Alberta ranch.
I’ve been reading with horror articles about the discovery of bovine Tuberculosis (TB) in a cattle southern Alberta with 40 ranches 22,000 cattle quarantined. Finally, curiosity won and with the help of Google, I found Brand Osadczuk’s phone number. Timidly I pushed the buttons on the phone thinking, “This guy is probably pretty tired of media calling and asking the same old questions. Yet the male voice that answered was friendly and fine with taking the time to chat with a rancher from Montana.
I expressed my concerns for the ranchers and let Brad know that many Montanans where anxiously watching the story unfold. Osadczuk’s stated that he appreciated that others were worried about him and his neighbors. When he first received the notice he too found it horrifying and even considered the conspiracy that some organization like r-Calf was behind it to keep Canadian beef imports at bay. He found it puzzling that the TB would be discovered in the States and not in Canada, but with understanding of USDA regulations for post mortem inspection at slaughter it became clear that was really the only way it would be found. Cattle are not usually tested or inspected for TB unless they are crossing borders or post slaughter unless they are in a state or province that is not declared TB free. Alberta and Montana are both considered TB free at this point.
Brad states he is all for the eradication of TB in his and other quarantined herds. Alberta is considered a TB clear province. If there were to be another unrelated TB case discovered within the next 2 years, Alberta would then lose that status and live testing of livestock and wildlife could be required on an annual basis. Brad doesn’t want to see the cattle industry in his province have that sort of regulatory hassle or economic harm.
“We can’t drop our guard now. The disease needs eradicated. It sucks to lose your livestock, dogs and horses, but I’m taking one for the team. It is important when you look at the big picture to keep our industry strong.” States Osadczuk.
When asked if he had any personal opinion about where the disease came from he stated he did not have a clue. A Canadian Food Inspection Agency staff member told him that it could be as simple as a migrating eagle that ate on a carcass of a diseased animal down in Mexico flew over and crapping on your place. Maybe a bird that came from Michigan or California where there are TB reservoirs.
Brad himself tells the story that a year ago, he traveled to Edmonton and spoke to the Environmental Minister there about the growing elk population on the Sheffield Military Base.
“Sheffield is right across my fence line. It started out as a few hundred elk and now is 7 or 8 thousand. I told them if they didn’t do something to lower the elk population we would end up with disease like brucellosis or TB. Here we are. It’s almost like I had a premonition or something about it. I think they need to look into the possibility.”
With further discussion Brad and I concluded that even if the elk didn’t transmit the disease to his cattle there is a possibility that whatever gave it to his cattle could have given the disease to the elk. It is uncomfortable to think of elk herd with TB in it. A nightmare. Testing the elk even if they are unlikely to be the source of the infection would give mental peace to the ranchers who are dealing with the Sheffield herd.
The possibility of the disease coming for a human who works on the ranch is slim. The only people on the ranch are Brad, his father and a young native born Albertan. The cattle are pretty much out and not handled much such as run through a calving barn. Brad states they calve out in the pasture starting in mid to late April, checking on the cows a couple times a day. He even hates to mess with the heifers much, stating that they have developed a herd that is pretty low maintenance.
Osadczuk runs approximately 1200 head of cattle broken up into four herds. Out of those four herds only one was affected. As do many other Albertan ranchers he uses Community Pastures. With all the community grazing it is hard to maintain a closed herd or have tight bio-security.
Brad believes that the quarantine and destroying of animals is harder on some of the older guys who always ran a tight herd, saving all their own heifers and never buying a cow. Those genetics were developed for the place and can’t be replaced simply buying new cows.
Replacing the cows is the other issue. Brad says, “ if you remove 10,000 cattle mostly mamma cows from the Alberta herd, how do you replace them? There isn’t 10,000 bred cows in the Alberta auction yards to be bought.
BSE brought the Canadian Cattle industry to it’s knees. We never fully recovered. The farmers all use to have a couple cows to run on some grass and stubble but after the BSE they just gave it up. No more! Now it’s just farmers and Just ranchers. There isn’t that crossover so much anymore. The herd was never really built back up. “
Brad took a trip and went to Ottawa to testify about the needs for ranchers to get some relief from the expenses of quarantined cattle and stop movement. Many ranchers are not set up to feed and water calves all winter. Brad had a stop movement and quarantine on some of his cattle up by Edmonton on grazing lease. He couldn’t move the cattle home so the gentleman up by Edmonton had to wean, get the cattle pregnancy checked and is now backgrounding the calves. On top of that when the CFIS came to test the herd for TB he also had to help with that. The amount of money is tens of thousands of dollars beyond what we would normally spend and of course there is no income off them at this point. That is why it is so important that this eradication goes right, that in the future there is something in place for the ranchers who are quarantined and who will lose their cattle. Because of Brad and other speaking out $16.7 million has been dedicated by the Canadian government to helping the ranchers cover these expenses.
The passion in Brads voice is clear, “Those people in Ottawa don’t understand. They’ve never feed a cow. That is why it is so important to pack your bags and go tell them your story. Fight for what is right now and for the future.”
I hope we can learn from the struggle of the Alberta ranchers. I hope that our government, state and federal gets a plan in place so when the FMD comes we are truly ready.