We need guard-dog farmers on TB
In a great line from a 1973 song by Jim Croce, he described a man as “meaner than a junkyard dog.”
That reference came from life experience of searching auto junkyards for parts to keep his cars running.
In an interview, Croce said, “I got to know many junkyards well, and they all have those dogs in them. They all have either an axle tied around their necks or an old lawnmower to keep ’em at least slowed down a bit, so you have a decent chance of getting away from them.”
For many of us, those words conjure up pictures in our minds and, for some of us, the song begins to go through our head.
Guard dogs, whether guarding a junkyard or a nuclear reactor, are there to protect the place from intruders. They instinctively become fierce when approached. Protection is the number-one thing on their mind.
Farmers raising cattle in Northeast Michigan need to develop that mindset. They need to see deer as the threat they are to their herds and protect their herds from tuberculosis. It needs to be a top priority, a consuming passion. There is no one else whose job it is to protect your cattle. It is not the government’s job to protect your cattle. It is not the hunters’ job to protect your cattle. It is the cattle owners’ responsibility.
What does that mean, in practice? It means taking the following five steps with as much vigor as a guard dog gives. It doesn’t mean doing the minimum, but rather doing everything possible, as allowed by law.
1.) Eliminate unnecessary attractants. We have known for years that apple trees draw deer. Why are there still apple trees on many livestock farms? One of the first rules of preventing infections is to provide no reason for deer to come onto your property. We can’t control everything, but we can do something about unfenced apple trees today.
2.) Reduce access to feed and minerals. Stored feed should be off-limits to deer. They should not be able to get to it. All feed should be stored, inaccessible, until it is fed. When feed is being fed, accessibility to deer should be very limited, either by putting out only as much feed and mineral as the cattle will consume in a day or creating a physical barrier to the feed.
3.) Create a less-inviting environment. Deer like cover. If there are cover areas on your land, you can clear that out. Work with your neighbors and see if you can create a break between their property and yours. Give deer less of what they want.
4. ) Increase the barriers between deer and your cattle. Experiment with different fencing options, including 3-D fencing. Use trail cameras to monitor deer intrusions. Find your weak points and target your efforts there. Keep cattle out of areas most likely to be used by deer until you can exclude deer from those areas.
5. ) Use disease control permits (DCPs) to enforce exclusion methods and recruit people to help you control deer on your property.
The time for complacency is gone. The time for minimal effort is long past. The threat of TB is increasing. The times call out for those who will take protecting their herd as seriously as a junkyard dog guards their treasure.
Will you respond to the call?
Phil Durst senior educator – dairy and beef cattle health and production for Michigan State University Extension.