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Broken promises

For two decades it looked as though Michigan’s free-ranging, white-tailed deer herd was clean of bovine tuberculosis. In 1994 that bubble burst. The slowly developing bacterial disease surfaced again in a deer surrendered by a northeast Lower Michigan hunter.

State officials knew the potential for a very serious problem if it were detected in cattle. Testing of cattle started in 1995, and by 1998 it was confirmed. The disease had likely jumped from the wild deer reservoir to cattle, although there was much debate as to which species had it first.

Key Points

The first TB-infected cattle herd was identified in 1998.

Michigan is still battling the disease 12 years after first TB-infected cattle herd.

Producers are upset with indemnification, taking of property rights, limited markets.


From the beginning, the state told producers its goal was eradication — not control — and it would eliminate the disease in the state within 10 years.

“On a dairy farm in Hillman, I remember Gov. John Engler, saying that it [TB] wouldn’t cost producers a dime. The state would take care of the disease and take care of us,” says Ervin Alexander, a cattle producer from Hubbard Lake. “A truckload of dimes wouldn’t cover what we’ve had to endure and the losses we’ve had to cover.”

Alexander and several other producers in the core “hot zone,” which includes five counties in northeast Lower Michigan, are unhappy with how they have been treated, the indemnification process, the taking of private property rights, the limited markets, and the devaluation of their businesses and livelihoods.

Twelve years later, with 50 TB-positive herds and about 4,800 cattle depopulated, the state is still in the thick of bovine TB, and with four new infected herds in 2010, some producers are finding the slow progress discouraging.

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FACING INDEMNIFICATION: USDA wants to take three of Ervin Alexander’s brood cows because they tested suspect for bovine TB. Alexander of Hubbard Lake is appealing the indemnification offer, saying it is far less than cull prices.

This article published in the January, 2011 edition of MICHIGAN FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2011.