Second brucellosis case found in Idaho cattle herd

State Veterinarian quick to blame it on elk or bison

Another cow, this time a 15 year-old, has tested positive for brucellosis in a herd that resided in eastern Idaho. This is the second from the same herd so Idaho retains its brucellosis-free status. The herd was assembled over the last two years and the origins of the animals have not been reported.

It is very important that epidemiology studies look closely at the samples taken so that the true source of the infection can be found, even if it came from other cattle. It is premature to say what the source of infection is yet when infections occur people sympathetic to the livestock industry are very quick to point fingers at wildlife.

Second brucellosis case found in Idaho cattle herd
By CAROL RYAN DUMAS – Capital Press





  1. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Any claim of an elk or bison source is way premature. Here’s a letter I sent to the reporter of this piece:

    Dear Ms. Dumas

    I read your story this afternoon in the Capital Press that a second cow from the “assembled” Rigby, Idaho herd has been found seropositive for brucellosis. I found most interesting this comment:

    “The question now is whether the herds where the animals originated are infected. Barton is more of the mind that the infection came from wild elk or bison that the herd came in contact with.”

    While Bill Barton may be of the mind that the infection came from elk or bison, that is more hope on his part than a fact. He seems quite interested very early in the game to finger elk as the culprit for this incident. That’s significant; are the facts so far actually pointing toward cattle? Scientifically, I would say that this claim is way premature, since we do not know as yet what breed these seropositive cows are (are they Corrientes by any chance?), and more importantly, we don’t know where they came from and we don’t know where they’ve been pastured during their lives. You say that this herd summered in Teton Basin. But then, it’s been a herd, according to your report, for only two years. Where have these cattle been previously? How many cattle of this herd have only joined the herd within the last year, or more recently?

    One of these seropositive cows is 15 years old, you report. That’s an old cow. Where has it been and where did it come from?

    It is very important that each one of the cattle in this assembled herd be traced back historically through all its pastures to its origins. We’ll also need DNA testing of the Brucella isolates. Should any of these cattle come from Texas or the southwest, it is reasonable to suspect a cattle source.

    I would point out that it has not yet been proven that the two recent brucellosis incidents in Montana cattle are due to elk, although that claim is being made quite publicly by the Montana Department of Livestock with scant direct evidence. We do know certainly they weren’t caused by bison, since bison are restricted to Yellowstone National Park and had no contact either with the Bridger or Paradise valley cattle herds that were found seropositive. The incidents in Wyoming in 2004 and the incident at Carol Albertson’s eastern Idaho ranch in Conant Creek in 2002 are known to be due to elk because elk in these cases were being fed near or with cattle–brucellosis existed at a high seroprevalence in these elk, there was extensive contact over time between fed elk and cattle, and the DNA of Brucella isolates taken from cattle and elk matched. We have no such smoking gun for Montana or the incidents of brucellosis in Swan Valley that cost Idaho its brucellosis free status in 2006.

    In other words, merely because these cattle have summered in Teton Basin doesn’t mean much epidemiologically. When did they go on summer range? The “window of transmission” for brucellosis in elk generally ends around 1 June, and that is late. Generally, we’re looking at a March-May transmission window for elk, primarily from 3d trimester abortions. Most cattle in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem don’t go onto summer ranges until 15 June or 1 July. Further, most Jackson Hole bison stay in Grand Teton National Park of the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. I don’t know of any bison that cross over the Teton Range into Idaho’s Teton Basin. In any case, no case is known where bison have passed brucellosis to cattle in the wild, even in Jackson Hole, where cattle and seropositive bison have intermingled for years.

    I would also point out that the RB51 vaccine is thought by Wyoming ranchers to be much less effective than Strain 19.

    I look forward to future updates on this important event.

    Robert Hoskins

  2. Carl Avatar

    Good letter, Robert

  3. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Yes. It is an important letter, and it is important that Idaho news media be contacted lest the search for the origin of the brucellosis be prematurely diverted onto the politically convenient elk or bison rather than the more explosive possibility that brucellosis is present in livestock on the market.

  4. kt Avatar

    Will anyone seriously believe an Idaho State Ag. Department vet?

    Shades of Marie Bulgin.


  5. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    It was clear to me when the first cow from this herd was reported seropositive a week ago that the Idaho State Vet (Barton) would do everything in his power to prove a wildlife source. The implications of a cattle source for this incident are politically and economically explosive for the livestock industry. It’s far more expedient to finger elk or bison and ignore continuing problems in the livestock movement and market surveillance system.

    With the cases in Montana, we hear ELK ELK ELK are responsible, but with no real proof. We still don’t have a final epidemiological report for the Montana incidents.

    These is something we need to stay on top of. That this is an “assembled” herd is the most important fact we have so far. We should keep on asking, assembled from where?


  6. outsider Avatar

    KT why would the state vet, Dr. Barton, not be a credible person, did he not go through the proper schooling, and have the suport of his peers for his current position?

    Robert, I find it a little disrepectfull that someone who has spent the time and money to get a PHD in their choosen field are not addressed in that maner. Even if you disagree when that indiviual.

    This thread smells of personal dislike for an indivual, and not about the acctually issue

  7. Percy Avatar

    “…it is an unfortunate fact that we often have the best science money can buy. Environmental scientist consultants hired by developers uncannily come up with answers that developers want. This is equally true in agricultural research…Thus, one must look at scientific results with a jaundiced eye depending on who has funded the investigation, and, too often, the phrase “sound science” is shorthand for ‘science that proves what I want it to prove.’ “

  8. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Outsider, I’d say you’re clearly outside the knowledge loop.


  9. outsider Avatar

    so why don’t you enlighten me then robert

  10. steve c Avatar
    steve c

    I have worked with many vets over the years and I can’t imagine any of them saying something so irresponsible. Dr Barton should be trying to figure out where this came from instead of shooting his mouth off and putting more wildlife in danger.

  11. Salle Avatar

    Like who, of anyone that has been watching this state wildlife vs cattle fiasco for any credible length of time, is surprised by this conclusion?

  12. Barb Rupers Avatar
    Barb Rupers

    Did you ever have a wolf as a pet?

  13. timz Avatar

    “I have worked with many vets over the years and I can’t imagine any of them saying something so ”

    I used to work for the USDA Vet Services and shared an office with a dozen vets and was amazed at the disregard many of them had for wildlife. Many of them even disliked dogs and cats. I could never figure out why they were in that profession.

  14. outsider Avatar

    timz, your statement is a crock of S$*&*#!!!!!! I know for a fact that vets like doctors have to take a do no harm pledge. I think the dislike that you were seeing was probably aimed more at the owners of the animals. And of course the vets have what you would call a disregard for wildlilfe, one it eats and harms their patients, 2 they don’t get a chance to treat any of it. 3 wildlife caries a whole bag of nasty dieses that can infect and kill their patients, ie; rabies, distempter, rocky mt fever, wasting diease, and yes Brucellosis, sorry fokes, most wildlife has never be vacinated.

    Yes barb I did have a pet wolf just like many of you and somebuddy shot the dam thing.

  15. Ralph Maughan Avatar


    There are a wide variety of vets. The state veterinarian is a political position. They have to respond, and probably want to respond to a different set of values than other government and private vets.

    I debated the Idaho State Vet about 8-10 years ago. I think he might have been a different one than now. He was truly stupid.

  16. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins


    Wasn’t that Bob Hillman? Yes, he was a piece of work. I think he’s the Texas State Vet now.


  17. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    I just looked Hillman up; he’s retired as Texas State Vet and has moved back to Idaho.


  18. Interested Local Avatar
    Interested Local

    Interesting thread to read…I am a local and know about the brucellosis infected herd. The boys who bought the herd put them together by buying from all different sources..they were looking for cheap, not practical. These were aged cows that should not have been put on the forest allotments. I know because I was with them to haul one load to pasture and there was a dead cow on the truck, they were very thin, old, and weak. I truly feel bad for the good producers who will be affected because of these “boys” stupidity. Brucellosis testing will be required of any neighbor that borders them…they had cows scattered from Felt to Victor to Palisades to Bone. I hope the Forest Service removes their permits due to the affect they will have on the allottments. The herd was not destroyed because the Federal Gov’t would not compensate them for the entire herd…can you imagine slaughtering 600-700 pregnant cows??? They are calving right now and if slaughtered would’ve had all kinds of Animal Rights people all over this issue. I understand that a couple semi-loads were allowed to be slaughtered, but that would maybe amount to 80-100 head. It is also unfortunate that they have made the decision to move several hundred head to Roberts to calve and are bordering a producer who they told would not be affected by them bordering him. The requirement by the State Dept. of Ag will require that they continue to test every 3-5 months every cow that has shown a negative result…I’m not sure if any of you have tried to gather cattle off forest allottments, but this will be an almost impossible task, plus not having the facilities to get blood samples on Forest property. We can’t blame the State Vet for the issue nor drag a previous Vet through the mud…the goal is to find the problem, get this issue resolved, and move forward. It is unfortunate that the majority of cattle producers do things right, are involved politically supporting their business, and follow the rules…it only takes one “fly by night” farm to overshadow the good people with this kind of situation. I hope that they make the decision to start being progressive and being involved in the grassroot organizations that could have helped them from the start and they may have made better choices (like culling cows that are 15+ years old and not putting on the forest).

  19. Ralph Maughan Avatar

    Interested Local,

    Thanks for the information on this. The discussion about this whole thing had kind of dropped.

  20. Robert Hoskins Avatar
    Robert Hoskins

    Interested Local.

    Thanks for the update. We’ve heard nothing from the Idaho press. Wonder why.

    What seems interesting here is that these cattle weren’t slaughtered, which is the standard response from APHIS, although technically it is an option for the owner to go through extended testing instead of slaughter.

    Generally, it would make sense not to slaughter if this were a unique herd that had been built up over the years, which is what most legitimate operations try to do. For a “goulash” on the cheap herd like this one, it doesn’t make any sense at all sense not to slaughter, even without full compensation. One wonders what is going on. It will be impossible to test these cattle while on the Forest so the testing will occur on private land once they come off the allotments.

    What we don’t yet know is whether feedground elk are the source, and the Idaho State Vet and APHIS have had plenty of time by now to do the DNA testing to determine a source. My criticism had to do with the State Vet’s stated determination up front to find a wildlife source, a determination that displayed considerable unscientific bias, especially when you consider that this is an ad hoc, assembled herd.

    Well, since we’ve not heard anything over the last two months, I suppose that this incident is due to a cattle source, which makes things really interesting.

    So, can you shed some light on the cause of this brucellosis incident? Is it cattle, and if so, where did the infected cow come from?

    By the way, I have gathered cattle off Forest allotments. It’s a pain in the ass. It does improve your riding skills.



Ken Cole is a 5th generation Idahoan, an avid fly fisherman, wildlife enthusiast, and photographer. He is the interim Idaho Director for Western Watersheds Project.

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