It's 8 p.m. Do you know where -- or how -- your cattle are? In this era of heightened awareness about unusual activities, livestock health officials are asking ranchers to check their livestock regularly and immediately report signs of disease. Also, animal owners are asked to report suspicious activities, intruders or circumstances to local police or sheriff's department. Llicense plate numbers and descriptions of trespassers, should be recorded.

"We're urging producers to keep a closer watch on their animals, in light of recent events in our country," commented Dr. Linda Logan, Texas' state veterinarian and head of the Texas Animal Health Commission (TAHC), the state's livestock health regulatory agency. "As always, individual livestock producers and private veterinary practitioners are our first line of defense if--or when--a livestock disease is accidentally or intentionally introduced into the state. The immediate reporting of suspicious or unusual conditions can make all the difference in our ability to swiftly diagnose, control and eradicate a disease."

She said ranchers should watch for and report any of these signs:

  1. Sudden, unexplained death loss in the herd or flock.
  2. Severe illness affecting a high percentage of animals.
  3. Blistering around an animal's mouth, nose, teats or hooves.
  4. Unusual ticks or maggots.
  5. Central nervous system disorders that cause an animal to stagger or fall.

"Through teamwork, the TAHC and Texas' USDA staff for months has maintained a 24-hour hot line for disease reporting," said Dr. Jon Lomme, assistant area veterinarian in charge of Texas for the US Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Veterinary Services (USDA-APHIS-VS). "We take reports and dispatch a trained foreign animal disease diagnostician to collect samples, evaluate the situation and take appropriate measures to protect livestock health. There is no charge for the service."

"To report suspicious signs, call 1-800-550-8242. After work hours, follow the recorded instructions to page a veterinarian," commented Dr. Logan. "Be prepared to provide a description of the potential disease signs and information regarding the location, species and number of animals involved. "

Dr. Logan pointed out that a joint TAHC and USDA-APHIS-VS "first-strike" force has been preparing to fight a foreign animal disease outbreak or natural disaster affecting livestock. Known as the Texas Emergency Response Team, or TERT, this group can be mobilized quickly to address a disease situation.

"The TAHC also is a full-fledged member of the state's Emergency Management Council, giving us the ability to call on the resources of more than 31 major state agencies," said Dr. Logan. "In late June, representatives from more than 22 of the participating agencies gathered in College Station for a tabletop exercise involving a make-believe outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD), a highly contagious foreign animal virus that, most recently, has greatly damaged the livestock industry in the Great Britain."

"In a livestock emergency, we could tap the manpower of state troopers to provide roadblocks to stop livestock movement, the National Guard to provide depopulation assistance and equipment, and the support services of the Red Cross to feed teams," explained Dr. Logan. She also pointed out that the TAHC and USDA-APHIS-VS have expanded the network of contacts with local emergency management coordinators, private veterinary practitioners and industry liaisons.

"While preparing to fight disease, we can never forget that our most valuable and cost-effective tool is livestock disease prevention and surveillance," commented Dr. Lomme. He listed several things livestock producers can do to help ensure the health of their herd or flock:

  • If you travel internationally, don't bring restricted products into the U.S., such as sausages, hams or other dangerous products that could spread disease. NEVER allow visitors or family members to bring these items on your property.
  • Launder or dry clean clothing and coats before you return to the US. Shower, wash your hair and put on clean clothes before heading to your flight home. Viruses or bacteria can be carried in your hair or on your skin, so it's important to bathe before traveling. Provide arriving international travelers with a clean set of clothing that can be worn after they shower.
  • Remove mud and manure from your shoes before journeying back to the U.S! Ask the Customs agent or USDA official to disinfect your shoes and other potentially contaminated items if you've been to a farm, zoo or other site where livestock or wildlife have been commingled. Provide shoes for visitors, or insist they wear only shoes that have not been worn on a ranch in another country.
  • For at least five days before you return to the U.S., don't go around farms, sale barns, zoos, fairs or other sites where livestock are kept. You could carry bacteria or viruses in your lungs, throat or nasal passages, and although you don't become ill, you could spread a livestock disease. Likewise, don't allow international travelers to have access to your livestock until they've been in the U.S. for at least five days.
  • Report suspicious activities, intruders or circumstances to the local police or sheriff's department. If possible, record license plate numbers and descriptions of trespassers.