Alberta ranchers lament loss of herds

An uncertain future looms over a community of southern Alberta ranchers whose operations are in quarantine because of bovine tuberculosis.

“I had no knowledge or inkling about TB and never thought I could end up with such a wreck,” said Brad Osadczuk, whose cow was the original animal diagnosed with the infectious disease in early September.

His ranch near Jenner is among the 50 that are under quarantine. Producers do not know when the quarantine will be lifted or how they will rebuild their cattle herds, which took generations to develop.

“These herds have literally descended from 100 years ago,” Osadczuk said.

“We take pride in the bloodlines and the cattle and the breeding programs that we built up over the last three generations. You just don’t go to town and buy a new one.”

Harpreet Kochhar, chief veterinarian with the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, said the first priority is tracing the disease and making sure it is not spreading.

“Once the animals are de-stroyed, we want to make sure that there is no residual infection staying in the herd or in the premise,” he said Dec. 7.

“A proper cleaning and disinfection will be the next logical step. Beyond that, a risk assessment will be done to determine when restocking of that herd can be done.”

Financial worries dominate the ranchers’ lives.

About 10,000 animals will be destroyed at designated plants, and they will be closely inspected for disease. Some may be cleared as fit for human consumption, but others may be rendered.

Osadczuk’s 1,200 Red Angus-Simmental cross cow herd will be destroyed, and he has lost the income expected from contracted calf sales in the fall.

He does not have an off-farm job and has already met with his banker to get loan extensions with no sense of when he can pay it back.

“Our factory is gone. There is no compensation for that,” he said.

A CFIA formula pays a maximum of $4,500 for a commercial animal, but he is being offered current market value of around $2,000 per head.

The federal government also announced cash advances and money through AgriRecovery totalling $16.7 million.

Producers can use the AgriRecovery money for feeding, watering and corral building, but Osadczuk said it is not enough.

“My 1,200 cow ranch is going to eat up 10 percent of that, so the 18 depopulated ranches will take all that money that we need to live on for the next year and a half,” he said.

Kevin Stopanski’s herd is considered low risk, but he has not been able to do business since his ranch was quarantined in October. He has talked with his banker, but he has no idea about final costs because it depends on how long the quarantine and restrictions last.

“There are 32 ranchers who have to maintain their cattle and calves,” he said.

“I have to maintain my calves, probably until the first of March because my reactors have not been dealt with yet,” he said.

The affected ranchers want to protect their property rights and ensure they are treated fairly.

“As a group, we have got some legal counsel. We need to make sure we are covering all our bases,” said Osadczuk.

Both men are well connected in the beef industry. Osadczuk is a director with Alberta Beef Producers and Stopanski is a delegate representing Zone 1 in the southeast.

“So far we are trusting the people in the industry who are helping us out,” said Stopanski.

Considerable debate during the Dec. 5-7 ABP annual meeting in Calgary produced three resolutions seeking help for those affected as well as a push for im-proved communication and better emergency plans.

One resolution asked that bridge financing be made available to affected premises in the event of a CFIA imposed quarantine. The money would be used to cover costs incurred throughout the quarantine period and ensuing restriction period.

“One of the problems that happened at Jenner was the lack of a process in place to get money to these guys in a timely manner,” said ABP chair Bob Lowe.

Another motion asked for improved compensation that reflects the interruption of business for the length of the quarantine until ensuing restrictions are lifted.

“The CFIA regulations don’t compensate anything more than for market price of the animal and not for how long they are putting us out of business,” said Osadczuk. Another resolution requested better emergency plans so the CFIA can respond better when these diseases emerge.

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