Many cows in a herd near Kris' dad's farm were diagnosed with bovine tuberculosis. To track down the source, the state tested every herd within a ten-mile radius of that farm. They also tested deer. They also tested farms that sold animals to that farm or were sold from that farm.
Two and a half years ago, we sold two bulls to that farm. So on April 6, we found out our herd was going to be tested.
When I first learned about this, I thought that if your herd had TB, you couldn't farm anymore, because your facilities and land would be infected. The state comes and puts lime on your fields and helps you sanitize everything, but you have to observe a waiting period. Since there's no vaccine or medication for tuberculosis, if the cattle have it, they put them down. What if you don't have enough money to build up your herd again? I was really worried, because I thought that if we had TB, then Kris would have to find a new career. I asked him repeatedly - for a worst case scenario - to tell me exactly what job he'd be doing if we weren't farming. (He gave me a different answer every time. Some of them were even sincere.)
They couldn't come and test until the end of April, because there were 66 farms within a ten-mile radius of the original farm. Yes, 66 herds to test! Kris' dad's was one of them and had no positive reactors. Hooray!
The state vets brought their own chutes, which are really a set of portable gates with a headlock. Over two days, they (with of course Kris and the guys' help) tested over 500 animals. They do the test by giving them a tiny shot at the base of their tails. They also had to give them a special ear tag. It took many hours.
Then two days later, they had to do it all over again. This time, they had to check every single one of them to see if they had a reaction to the shot.
If they have a reaction, they take blood. Then then do a blood test. If the cow doesn't pass the blood test, they put her down to look for lesions. If they don't see lesions, they check the lymph nodes under a microscope.
On the day they checked for reactors, Kris was at the barn helping ... and I was waiting anxiously to see how many had a reaction. What if our whole herd had TB? What number was he going to tell me? Whatever it was, it was going to really affect our future plans.
Finally, they were done, and we had seven reactors. It was way fewer than the percentage of reactors they were assuming we'd get. They said that this didn't mean they had TB - just some cattle are more sensitive than others. They also said that the reactions were very small - like mosquito bites, and on the affected farm the reactions were the size of bananas.
I was feeling pretty good. So, the news a week later from Kris really crushed me. Out of the seven blood tests, two of them tested positive.
The state vet assured us the blood tests aren't 100% accurate. (Thank goodness?)
It seems like they would immediately swoop in and take the two cows. But since they're doing this all over the state, it took a little longer. Two weeks after we got that call, they took away the cows to be put down. The state paid us for them, which made it a little less painful for us, but crummy for them.
My dad called it the Salem Witch Trial of TB tests.
Three days after they took them, they called and gave us the good news - no lesions. They told us we passed step one, and we'd get the microscope test results today.
So today we got the call - NO TB! TB-FREE! What an incredible relief. I've been thinking about this and worrying about it every day for 44 days.
Like I said, there's no vaccine or medicine for bovine tuberculosis. The original farm isn't at fault. You can't control disease that's passed by respiratory secretions. In Michigan, bovine TB has been found in "white-tailed deer, elk, black bear, bobcat, coyote, opossum, raccoon, and red fox." (Quit congregating, animals!)
I feel for those farmers and any farmers who have TB in their herd. Of course none of us want TB in our cattle or our people. The state and the farmers all only have the public's best interest in mind. I wish all farmers and herds clean bills of health!
Thankfully, I'm writing the ending I was hoping for all along. Looks like Kris is still going to be a farmer tomorrow.