Two years after tests first indicated the presence of a sexually transmitted disease in a handful of Hawaii Island cattle, state officials imposed a statewide quarantine order requiring testing of new dairy and beef bulls brought to the state and moved from one herd to another.
The Department of Agriculture announced the quarantine order late Tuesday in order to stop the spread of bovine Trichomoniasis, a venereal disease bulls can transmit to cows during breeding. State officials said the disease cannot be transmitted to humans and does not affect the safety of beef. An Agriculture Department spokeswoman said 35 animals tested positive for the disease since 2011. The disease was found in nine herds on Hawaii Island, in Ka‘u, North Hilo and Kohala, and in one Makakilo, Oahu, herd.
The state imposed quarantine orders on those herds, and since, one herd has tested negative for the disease in several subsequent rounds of testing. Four more herds have tested negative in their first round of post-diagnosis testing. But the persistent recurrence of the disease in some herds prompted the department to issue the statewide order, Deputy State Veterinarian Jason Moniz said Wednesday.
“The infection occurs not only in bulls, but also in cows,” Moniz said. “There’s no good test for the cows.”
If a rancher wants to screen the cows for the disease, a veterinarian would need to manually inspect each cow, something that is manageable for a herd of maybe 200 to 400 cows, but not for a herd of 1,000 to 2,000 head, Moniz said.
Tim Richards, a Big Island veterinarian and immediate past president of the Hawaii Cattlemen’s Council, praised the state for imposing the order.
“The quarantine is very appropriate,” Richards said, adding the state took the time to discuss the situation with ranchers and veterinarians before implementing any new rules.
That gave state officials the time to craft rules that were “reasonable and realistic,” he added. “They took a situation and very quickly got their arms around it. You can’t just do something.”
The decision in 2011 to test only some herds raised questions for at least one Ka‘u rancher. In November, Kyle Soares told West Hawaii Today he wanted the state to follow the lead of several other states, which required routine testing for the disease.
Soares took issue with the state’s quarantine announcement, noting he had a bull test positive for the disease in 2010, not 2011.
“For one year, they did nothing,” Soares said. “They tried to keep it quiet.”
He also questioned why farms on Maui, Molokai and Kauai hadn’t been doing surveillance testing.
The state will now require the testing for any bull brought to the state from the mainland or for any bull being transferred from one herd or another. Richards said the tests cost about $75 to $80 apiece, and while ranchers can treat the bulls for the infection, the disease in bulls is difficult to eradicate. About 99 percent of cows, if they become infected, can recover on their own if they are kept from breeding for 90 to 120 days.
Richards said the disease doesn’t kill the bull or cow, but has a significant impact on a cow’s ability to carry a calf to term. A normal herd of 100 cows, with good management, can typically produce 80 to 85 healthy calves, he said.
“This disease could easily cut that in half,” he added. “That’s ruinous to the business.”
Parker Ranch’s livestock operations manager Keoki Wood said the import testing requirements won’t affect the ranch operations much, because they don’t import cattle for breeding.
“We raise all of our own breeding stock,” Wood said. “It helps us remain disease free.”
But the Agriculture Department’s move is a good one, he said, because an infected bull from one herd could always escape into another ranch’s pasture and begin infecting that herd.
“It’s a good biosecurity measure for the industry in Hawaii,” Wood said.